Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Although the movie claims to have been "inspired" by Homer's Iliad, the comparisons to the written work are inevitible. Perhaps (un)fortunately for me, I have read Homer's works, along with Virgil's Aeneid and Aeschylus's Orestia in my academic career, along with taking classes in Greek History and Warfare in Antiquity.
As a warning, this review compares the literature vs. the movie, although I (hopefully) do not necessarily spoil the movie by doing so. Despite the attempts to separate the literature from the entertainment, Troy constantly trips itself as an attempt to harken back to the epic stories of Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings.
After years of fighting, the kingdoms of Troy and Sparta have come to peace. Royal members of each land drink and celebrate together before Trojan Princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) prepare to return to their homeland. It seems that during his visit, Paris has fallen in love with the wife of his host, King Menelaus, (Brendan Gleece). Helen, played by Diane Krueger shares Paris' feelings, and is full of sorrow at what the next dawn will come.
When the Trojans do sail off, Paris tells Hector that there's something Paris must show his brother. It turns out Helen has stowed away on the ship, unable to allow Paris to sail away. Furious, Hector orders the ship back to Sparta, only to realize that in doing so, he sentences Paris to death. Knowing that the consequences will reverberate for every Trojan, Hector decides to sail for Troy.
Menelaus appeals to his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) to take the fleets of Greece to Troy. Menelaus feels his honor has been insulted, Agamemnon sees an opportunity to control the Aegean. However, Agamemnon has been counseled that this military operation will need Greece's greatest warrior, Achilles (Brad Pitt). Unfortunately, Achilles and Agamemnon do not see eye to eye on many things, and Achilles keeps his martial skills only for himself. Agamemnon drafts Odysseus (Sean Bean) to enlist Achilles, without having to ask Achilles himself.
Meanwhile, back in Troy, Helen arrives to a welcoming reception, including the father of Paris and Hector, King Priam (Peter O'Toole). Yet, not all is well, because Helen knows Menelaus will come for her with a huge force to take down the fabled walls of Troy. Hector fears what the impending clash between their peoples will mean. He fears for his wife, Andromache, (Saffron Burrows) and baby son. The Greek fleet is coming...
The actors were very well cast. The effort and training many of the actors went through shows. Pitt was pouty; Bana was effective in Hector's attempts to do what he could for his people; Bloom looked pretty and channeled Legolas when needed.
Some of the most moving performances, however, came from the more minor roles in the ensemble cast. Peter O'Toole conveyed the wise and perceptive Priam, calming Hector's protestations that Paris' foolishness will cost Troy dearly. Burrows as Adromache supported Bana's Hector, yet was not simply a prop for Hector to bounce off. Hector and Adromache came across as a partnership, an equal husband and wife relationship.
The only problem was Diane Krueger. Although for the most part she played Helen sympathetically and with vulnerability, she just wasn't the 'face that launched a thousand ships' beautiful.
Summer flicks (and Troy certainly was one for 2004) are not normally known for fantastic acting, but the cast was extremely effective here. Unfortunately, the movie does not do well in other parts.
Apparently, director Wolfgang Petersen had the chance to direct 2000's Gladiator, but turned it down.
Although the actors did as well as they could, I think their work is lessened by the direction. Director Wolfgang Petersen sometimes made things too obvious by lingering on reaction shots. There is at least one instance in which he allowed the camera to remain on a character that the audience hasn't really had a chance to get to know yet, hitting them on the head with the sign: LOOK! THIS WILL BECOME AN IMPORTANT CHARACTER!
The battles, some of which could have been absolutely stunning, were weakened by lack of focus. Often battles in movies focus on the main characters of a few of the fighters to allow the audience to build a relationship with them, whether they live or die. A lot of the shots are wide group shots giving complete anonymity of the people involved. It looked like everyone was pushing up against one another at times (which was actually a true ancient Greek hoplite battle tactic), but there was little chance for the audience to involve themselves emotionally in the fighting.
The use of CGI was also not great either. There were some fantastic shots of the big Greek fleet sailing the Aegean Sea, but then there were also some nearly impossible fighting moves that looked that they were done by CGI.
I also got the feeling that Petersen really wanted to give the movie that grand, historical, epic feel. At times the actors seemed self-conscious, as if they were attempting to channel Gladiator through the lines they were saying and the way they had to move and act. Perhaps to rival Russell Crowe's Stoicism, Brad Pitt kept the pout constantly turned on, almost as if he had his face Botoxed to stay that way.
The only actor who didn't seem to care was Brian Cox, who cheerfully chewed through scene after scene as Agamemnon.
In another attempt to imitate Gladiator, it seems the production team also wanted to have the music like it too. Right down to vocal wailing in the background. It's starting to get old, Hollywood...
Geez. Some of this stuff was absolutely terrible. While it looked good in trailers and on paper, the delivery of some of these lines were excruciatingly awful.
Achilles: Let no man forget how menacing we are; we are lions! Do you know what's there, waiting, beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it, it's yours!
Helen: You should not have come here tonight.
Paris: That's what you said last night?
Helen: Last night was a mistake.
Paris: And the night before?
Helen: I have made many mistakes this week.
Briseis: I thought you were a dumb brute. I could have forgiven a dumb brute.
It's difficult to choose lines because some really do look good on paper. As a contrast, there were some that worked well both on paper and on screen:
Priam: I've fought many wars in my time. Some I've fought for land, some for power, some for glory. I suppose fighting for love makes more sense than all the rest.
Priam: I loved my son from the moment he opened his eyes until the moment you closed them.
Despite being more than two hours in length, the script asked for a lot suspension of logic from the audience. I've read the work(s) this movie was based on, but I still had trouble telling Menelaus and Agamemnon apart and following parts of the story. A great deal of potential backstory was cut out, including the gods and the background on the Judgment of Paris, where he was asked to choose between three goddesses.
Oddly enough, the characters invoke the gods so often, it was extremely odd not to see any of them. Although it's understandable that the makers of the movie wanted to distance themselves from the image of Zeus hurling bolts down and cheesy 80's special effects, the divine forces are key to the Iliad.
Yet, part of the tragedy of the Iliad was the fact that even the gods could only do so much, and they were powerless against Fate, which is completely missing from this version of the Trojan War. While Petersen might have been trying to update the story to allow the audience to identify with the characters, it ends up being a fairly messy show.
In the rush to get to the epic battles and bloodshed, we were asked to believe in Paris' and Helen's fling was the cause of the Trojan War. Literally 10 minutes is spent on their relationship as the foundation of the conflict, and it's just not believable. Whether it was Petersen's choice to move into the fighting as fast as he could or if the script just called for it, I'm not sure.
I really wanted to like this movie, and could see the great potential for it to actually stand as being only inspired by Homer's works, but it just doesn't work.
Rated R for violence, adult situations, nudity. Even the violence was as uneven as the movie; because there were parts that were only mildly bloody, with others earning a the 'R' rating
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older