Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2004)
Despite the enormous success of 2000’s Gladiator, Hollywood doesn’t often attempt flicks about the BC years anymore, but those efforts returned to prominence via a couple of big-name efforts in 2004. Oliver Stone’s Alexander bombed, so the more successful of the two came first with Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, which hit the screens in May 2004.
Under King Agamemnon (Brian Cox), the kingdoms of Greece become united in a loose alliance except for unconquered Thessaly. The King’s brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) - also the King of Sparta - tires of war so he attempts to settle problems with Troy, Greece’s main rival. Warrior par excellence Achilles (Brad Pitt) fights for Greece but turns into something of a wild card due to his dislike of Agamemnon.
When the forces of Thessaly and Greece meet on the field of battle, Agamemnon proposes that they settle matters with a one-on-one fight between each side’s best warrior. Thessaly puts up Boagrius (Nathan Jones), while Greece uses Achilles. Inevitably, the latter wins - after all, it’s Brad Pitt’s name over the credits, not Nathan Jones’s.
From there we see a celebration of the union between Sparta and Troy as Menelaus toasts Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom). That’s not the only union, as Spartan Queen Helen (Diane Kruger) maintains an affair with Paris. She frets that he’ll split and she’ll never see him again, so he invites her to come as well despite a slew of prospective dangers. She agrees to accompany him, and Menelaus flips when he discerns her absence.
Hector’s none too happy either, since Paris’s decision may cause war. He insists that they return to Troy with Helen even through Paris claims he’ll not leave her. Not that this seems likely to placate the enraged Menelaus who wants to raze Troy to the ground. To those ends, he convinces Agamemnon to come to war with him.
Although some feel no one can conquer Troy, Agamemnon delights to take on the opportunity. Unfortunately, his advisor Nestor (John Shrapnel) thinks they require the unpredictable Achilles, so the king reluctantly recruits him. Agamemnon gets the warrior’s pal Odysseus, king of Ithaca (Sean Bean), to convince Achilles to fight, and his spiel works.
Paris, Helen and Hector return home and inform the Trojan King Priam (Peter O’Toole) of the situation. Hector wants to send Helen home, but Priam seems more willing to take on those who would fight them. The various forces soon arrive in Troy, where Achilles’ warriors hit the beach first. They slaughter many and take the advantage.
Along the way, the men capture priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne), also a relative of Priam, and give her to Achilles. He doesn’t take advantage of her, though, and actually comes to her defense when Agamemnon possesses her. She tells him to back off and not kill on her behalf, though this means the king will use and abuse her. This also serves to make Achilles hate Agamemnon even more, though the hunky warrior manages to start a romance with the priestess eventually.
When the armies next meet, Paris proposes a compromise. He will battle Menelaus for the possession of Helen, winner takes all, and the war ends. Unfortunately, Paris is a lover, not a fighter, and he fares poorly in the contest. When he cowers next to Hector, the older brother takes care of business and slays Menelaus. This really cheeses off Agamemnon, and the war resumes with a passion.
The rest of the film follows these established threads. We see the various elements of the war along with other pieces. Some of these involve Achilles’ cousin and ward Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund). When his parents’ died, Achilles started to care for him.
In addition to Gladiator, I think part of the reason for the resurgence of this kind of historical epic stems from the success of the Lord of the Rings movies. Of course, those didn’t deal with any specific era in history, but they tended toward a feeling of an older time, and they featured a period prior to the use of firearms.
That Rings tone comes through very clearly in Troy’s battle sequences. These owe a big debt to those of the Rings flicks; were it not for the absence of orcs and other creatures as combatants, the Troy fights would look like they came straight from Peter Jackson’s hit.
(The Rings feel gets a boost from the casting of Troy. We find both Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean here. Heck, Bloom even plays another archer here!)
Unfortunately, the battle sequences - and the movie in general - never become nearly as involving as Rings. For an epic about warriors Troy tends to be an awfully chatty experience. The first act of the flick drags as we learn about all the situations and scenarios. The exposition is clearly necessary, but Petersen could have portrayed it in a livelier manner. In fact, the opening text tells us much of what we need to know, and the rest of the yammering does little more than drive home the same points.
Troy aspires to a larger-than-life attitude but it fails to feel grand and all encompassing. The participants endlessly blather about their places in history and how they want to be remembered. I suppose this aims to let us know about their attitudes, but instead it feels more like an attempt to convince us we should care. Obviously the stories and characters were remembered for centuries - we’re watching the movie, aren’t we? Do we need endless discussions of the characters’ thoughts about their places in history?
No, and these drag a slow-moving movie even further. All this gabbing might be more acceptable if the action lives up to expectations, but it doesn’t. A couple of the fights work reasonably well, but most of them just feel like outtakes from Rings. Petersen stages them with too many cuts and in a jerky manner that makes them moderately annoying to watch.
This becomes especially irritating during a climactic battle between Achilles and Hector. Petersen cuts very rapidly, probably to allow Pitt and Bana to do as much of the fighting themselves. Longer shots would likely have required the use of doubles, whereas shorter bursts could be executed with the real actors. That’s a nice idea, but since it requires the action to pop up in short, choppy bits, it becomes aggravating to watch.
Troy boasts a very solid cast, but none of them make much of an impression. In general, I like Pitt very much, but he lacks the right personality for a role like Achilles. He simply has the wrong tone for this sort of classical enterprise; he works much better as more modern and American characters. It doesn’t help that his vague attempt at a British accent fails miserably. The buffed-up Pitt looks great in the role, but his usually-solid acting chops fail him.
With all sorts of intrigue, action and subplots, Troy had the potential to be a thrilling epic. Instead, it ends up as an excessively long, overly chatty bore. It rambled from one scene to another without much useful material to connect it. Chalk up Troy as a dull disappointment.