Troy Reviewby Ryan Ellis (flickershows AT hotmail DOT com)
June 16th, 2004
reviewed by Ryan Ellis
June 15, 2004
Let me start by saying that I have never read a word written by Homer, including his poem, "The Iliad". The gist of it is familiar through my years of being a pop culture fiend, though. Same goes for "The Odyssey". The Coens were generous enough to mainstream that one with their hilarious 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?', but Joel & Ethan were freely pillaging a source text and putting their own screwy spin on it. 'Troy' is a massive epic that seems to be trying to remain loyal to Homer, yet it's only funny when it's not trying to be. The battle scenes are adequate, but the rest of the movie is just hot air. David Benioff's pompous screenplay is dealing with larger-than-life figures and manages to make them sound like twits. This is light years away from his down-to-earth adaptation of his own book, '25th Hour'. As for those merely adequate scenes of supercharged battle, you could point to dozens of better war movies (from 'Spartacus' to the 'LOTR' threesome). It's getting harder to make pixels look suitably murderous these days...
German-born director Wolfgang Petersen has turned into a blockbuster filmmaker who can command huge budgets and can cast superstar actors (names like Eastwood, Hoffman, Spacey, Ford, and Clooney have starred in his pictures). This time he's got Brad Pitt in the leading role of Spartan warrior, Achilles, with Eric Bana (the human half of 'Hulk') and Orlando Bloom (Legolas the elf in 'LOTR') to share the marquee as Trojan princes. Even Peter O'Toole, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, and Julie Christie appear to class the joint up. So what does that cast in this version of "The Iliad" amount to? Not enough, I'm afraid. The actors have done their best to beef up, learn reasonable accents, and/or fight like madmen. And why? Well, apart from a Hitler-like desire to rule as much of the Aegean Sea as possible, the Mycenaen leader, Agamemnon (Cox), attacks Troy to retrieve his brother's wife, Helen. Paris (Bloom) is in love with her and is risking full-scale war & the possible destruction of his father's kingdom just because he's swooning. Ah, the swooners. Those narcissistic nincompoops.
When you're spending a mint to film the Helen of Troy story, you better have a drop-dead gorgeous leading actress. Salon.com has the greatest one-liner about this movie. According to their acerbic Stephanie Zacharek, this is "a Helen who couldn't launch a dinghy". Diane Kruger is the German-born beauty playing "the face that launched 1000 ships", and her appeal is purely physical. Sure, it's not all her fault, although I'm not sure even Tennessee Williams could make this gal interesting. The screenplay gives her some howlers that we haven't heard since Kate Beckinsale was saddled with some of the stupidest lines ever in 'Pearl Harbor'. All the same, Jodie Foster and Meryl Streep won't be losing their places in Hollywood to this new "find". For this story to work, you've got to fall in love with the young lovers, Helen and Paris. And I didn't. Not for a second. Women might very well enjoy seeing all the exposed male fleshed in this picture, but I hope they're too smart to fall for the soggy-socks love story.
When the kids skulk away from Menelaus' lair, Sparta versus Troy is on, baby...and everybody knows it. Agamemnon turns nearly orgasmic in anticipation of the fight. Menelaus (Gleeson, good once again) just wants his wife back. But will the two lovebirds do the right thing to save a bloodbath? Nah, that would be too sensible. I loathe characters who are willing to let thousands die just because they're in love. You're horny for Helen, Paris? Fuck you, you selfish wimp. Typical royal, allowing the peasants to fight his battles and lose their lives. I really, truly, utterly disliked this character. Can you tell? Hector (Bana) is fully aware of just how serious the situation is the moment he sees Helen hiding on his boat. And he's a stand-up guy. Bana saves 'Troy', the movie, nearly as often as he saves Troy, the city. This is a prince that the king can be proud of, just as Paris is a lout who's unworthy of his papa's adoration. That he gets to kill a major character is patently absurd (even if it's probably just a scene you'll find in the poem).
At times, 'Troy' is almost the Monty Python sketch that might have been. Problem is, the humour is unintentional. For example, just when one side has landed a major blow to the other side, they stop fighting. This happens more than once. During one sequence, Hector thinks he's killed an all-star Spartan. Oops, sorry, wrong guy . This is going to make Achilles go berserk. [And in a fierce 1 on 1 later on, Achilles and Hector DO fight to the death.] Anyway, both teams know Hector has just cut his own throat. Okay, we've seen that "uh oh" moment in movies before. But I don't recall a scene where the blood-thirsty combatants on both sides instantly agree "that's enough killing for today", then walk away. Whaaaa? How do savage warriors turn it on and off like that? Monty Python. I was stifling my laughter at this moment because a full-blown attack of the giggles wouldn't be fair to the audience surrounding me. Then again, my insane cackling might have been more entertaining than the movie.
The monster cast floats around in this movie, looking for a safe place to do their acting thing amongst the pyro and computer F/X. The wonderful Julie Christie has a cameo as Achilles' mother that's so small, I didn't know it was her. The least you can do is let me bask for a while in the essence of Miss Christie, Mr. Petersen. The legendary Peter O'Toole has a meaty role as Priam, King of Troy, and has a powerful scene where he begs Achilles to return a dead Trojan for a proper burial. He's not wasted the way Christie and Sean Bean are. Cripes, Bean is playing Odysseus (as in, the star of "The Odyssey"), for cryin' out loud! He's always hanging on the fringes, looking like he's about to take over, but never does. And I'm indifferent to the decision to cut out any visual references to the Greek gods. Zeus gets a brief shout-out and that's probably just as well. Petersen has said that the story was complicated enough without trying to incorporate some mythic figure firing off bolts of lightning.
Had there been some lightning, it would have been just as impersonal as the other F/X. Petersen is one of those directors who uses computers a lot to aid his cinematic vision. With 'The Perfect Storm' and now 'Troy', he's spending too much time on bits & bytes and not nearly enough on directing his talented actors. What happened to the guy who used subtle F/X to enhance a terrific thriller like 'In The Line Of Fire'? If he wants to be Michael Bay or any of the other boring, idea-free directors, he's on that path. His direction of Pitt raises eyebrows. Achilles seems to have been churned up and then let loose, yet he's still not nasty enough to play such a larger-than-life character. I've waited this long into the review to discuss Mister Aniston because I can't pinpoint what I think hurts performance. He's both all right for the role AND all wrong. He's in fantastic physical condition and his athleticism is impressive. Nevertheless, the frequent nudie butt shots seem gratuitous and Pitt's interpretation of Achilles just doesn't come across as the greatest warrior on Earth. He's angsty and mopey when he needs to be a savage animal.
I heard murmurings around me when the Trojans find the giant horse standing outside the great gate of Priam's fortress. Yes, folks, that IS the Trojan Horse, the massive disguise used by the Greeks to infiltrate the impregnable city. Are the scenes with that legendary horse and the final battle inside Troy's gates worth the hype? Well, sort of, but it takes a long time to get to that carnage. When things get rough, 'Troy' works sufficiently. When things get dewy, they also get screwy. Pitt fans don't need a review to get them to the theatre and boyfriends of Pitt fanatics might barely be able to sleep through the sap to get to the battles. I'd rather have arrows shot at my Achilles' Heel than see this again, though. The love story in 'Saving Private Ryan' works far better than the Helen & Paris relationship in 'Troy'. What's that? There's no love story in Spielberg's war epic? Precisely.
To Trojan my Greek, write to [email protected] And check out my website at http://groups.msn.com/TheMovieFiend.
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