Film Reviews

TROY

By • May 14th, 2004 •

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Running time — 163 minutes / MPAA rating: R

“When you’re ahead of your time you’re alone.” – Michael Marlin

Screenwriter David Benioff’s TROY is “inspired” by “The Iliad,” Homer’s epic poem. History has another take on the lives of Helen of Troy and Paris. According to history, Queen Helen of Sparta was indeed the world’s most beautiful woman. Back then, royals believed they were impregnated by gods. Helen’s father was Zeus. This parentage made sex with her very desirable to Greek kings. She was kidnapped at an early age and when returned to her Earth father she had many suitors. Helen’s father gave her to the aged King Menelaus. After giving birth to 4 or 5 children, she met young Prince Paris of Troy and promptly absconded with him for Troy. Paris also looted his friend Menelaus’s treasury. Menelaus, aided by his powerful brother, Agamemnon, King of the Mycenaeans, attempted to get Helen back when he heard about the betrayal. At the time he was in Crete having his own assignation. Agamemnon wanted to conquer impenetrable Troy and his brother’s honor was a good enough reason. The Trojan War was fought for ten years.

I’ve been to Troy. It was bigger in the movie.

We are first introduced to the brilliant warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt) in battle. Achilles is so legendary a warrior that he is brooding, self-centered, and at odds with King Agamemnon (Brian Cox).

Benioff’s TROY should have delved deeper into the complicated egos that gave rise to such a fascinating story.

Queen Helen (Diane Kruger) is unhappy with her husband King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). She is conducting an affair with Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) right under the nose of her husband in his palace. If Benioff had shown that Helen had contempt for the aged King and Paris was dismissive of Menelaus as a sexual rival, a far more dramatic conflict would have been set for the bloodshed that followed. Menelaus’s rage at the young man would have been more finely shaded. Instead, Helen and Paris are impulsive teen lovers: Selfish, disrespectful, and careless. Childless Helen is downright saintly!

Lovesick Paris entreats his brother Hector (Eric Bana) to come to his defense. Paris has put Troy in jeopardy and they must now prepare for war. Helen’s adultery is no issue to their old father, King Priam (wrinkle-free Peter O’Toole). He welcomes Helen and anoints her Helen of Troy. The sibling rivalry between Paris and Hector could have also been mined. And Hector’s wife, Andromache (Saffron Burrows), warmly welcomes the woman whose willful selfishness has put her husband’s life in peril. Palace intrigue is missing. Everyone rallies around protecting the tearful Helen. Why? Paris, portrayed here as a spineless lover, should have been more arrogant. After all, he stole the world’s most beautiful woman from a vengeful king. There will be many deaths in Troy because of his actions.

As for Achilles, his prescient mother Thetis (Julie Christie) could have been written as a more manipulative agent spearheading his belief in the immortality of his name. Everything Achilles does he views in terms of the epic poems that will be written about him. Thetis played a significant role in his legend but is just a kind mother here.

Achilles also took several females as war-prizes and this is duly noted. However, history tells us about Achilles’s “best friend Patroclus,” characterized here as his young cousin. Did Benioff and Peterson worry that Achilles’s constant companion, who figures prominently in his legend, would have looked like a homosexual friendship?

With beautiful, barely draped men fighting and living with each other in liberal Greece, Peterson does not allow one homoerotic glance to cloud our horizon.

Orlando Bloom’s Paris does not fair as well as Pitt’s Achilles. The screenplay should have made him the spoiled, indulgent son of an old man. Eric Bana has now learned how to do the romantic leading man close-up: Head slightly downcast, three-quarter view forward. If only Ang Lee had envisioned THE HULK as the Id’s Sexy Beast Within there could have been a franchise. Benioff was smart to be parsimonious in giving Achilles dialogue since he’s a fighter not a talker. Benioff saves all his tough-talk for Agamemnon. Cox gives Agamemnon a boastful virility, pleasure in kingship and military superiority to set himself apart from the younger, handsomer cast. He also handles his scenes with Pitt with wit and annoyed frustration.

Brad Pitt is sexually dazzling as Achilles. Director Wolfgang Peterson takes full advantage of his charisma and lavishes him with gorgeous close-ups. There is an abundance of fighting, bloodshed, and an armada of CGI ships and warriors for the men. For the women, we are given several lust-filled scenes of a naked Pitt. The cold blue-eyed stare Pitt has mastered works as the template for Achilles. Like Alexander the Great, a few choice remarks serve well their purpose.

Peterson has also created a rich landscape and whatever the budget was, it was not aimlessly squandered. The weaknesses of the screenplay are overcome by Pitt’s total command of the film and Peterson’s strong direction. The battle scenes are cleverly chaotic and brutal with bodies collapsing on top of each other. Ancient Greece is gloriously imagined and the epic legend still enthralls.


Credits:
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Screenwriter: David Benioff
Inspired by “The Iliad” by: Homer
Producers: Wolfgang Petersen, Diana Rathbun, Colin Wilson
Director of photography: Roger Pratt
Production designer: Nigel Phelps
Music: James Horner
Co-producer: Winston Azzopardi
Costume designer: Bob Ringwood
Editor: Peter Honess

Cast:
Achilles: Brad Pitt
Hector: Eric Bana
Paris: Orlando Bloom
Helen: Diane Kruger
Agamemnon: Brian Cox
Odysseus: Sean Bean
Menelaus: Brendan Gleeson
Priam: Peter O’Toole
Briseis: Rose Byrne
Andromache: Saffron Burrows
Thetis: Julie Christie

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