A film review by Craig J. Koban

TROY jjj

2004, PG-13, 162 mins.

Achilles: Brad Pitt / Paris: Orlando Bloom / Hector: Eric Bana / Helen: Diane Kruger / Odysseus: Sean Bean / Agamemnon: Brian Cox / Priam: Peter O'Toole / Menelaus: Brendan Gleeson / Andreomache: Saffron Burrows

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen /  Written by David Benioff

Wolfgang Petersonís new historical film TROY is an ambitious epic.  

NayÖitís a fiercely ambitious epic.  

With a budget conservatively estimated at nearly $200 million, a cast of chiseled specimens ranging from Brad Pitt to Eric Bana, a league of thousands of extras, bold visuals, and fancy period costumes and sets, this film seemingly has Oscar gold written all over it.  

Donít worry, fair and impressionable Academy members.  TROY should not preoccupy your energies when looking for the obligatory epic film that you love to nominate for BEST PICTURE.  Itís not BEN HUR.  Itís not SPARTACUS.  Hell, it is not even GLADIATOR.  It most certainly has scope and brilliant visuals that dwarf even the most modern film epics, but it lacks heart and emotional resonance that make the greatest historical films really sing.  It has a powerful visual majesty, and the action scenes are of first class caliber.  Itís a film that is wonderful to look at, easy to be taken in by, but is populated by too many enigmatic characters who lack significant depth and often feel underwritten.  In short, itís a fairly enchanting, sometimes thrilling, but emotionally hollow and flawed epic that is, nevertheless, fairly entertaining. 

For the uninitiated, TROY is based extremely loosely on Homerís epic poem THE ILLIAD and recounts the legend of the TROJAN WAR.  The film keeps most of the names, places, and dates alive, but ostensibly omits the Greek Gods.  If THE ILLIAD was a story of men and gods, then Wolfgang Petersonís TROY most certainly is a story about men.  Obviously, the makers of the film were more interested in making the next BRAVEHEART or GLADIATOR then LORD OF THE RINGS.   I would have found it interesting to explore the more fantastical elements of the original poem, but I humbly digress. 

I will attempt to provide you with a COLES NOTES version of the basic plot.  The film essentially takes place around the year 1250 B.C.  The infamous Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger), the daughter of Zeus and a mortal, is said to be the most beautiful woman alive. When Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) goes with his older brother, Hector (Eric Bana), on a peace mission to Sparta, Paris and Helen fall for each other. The screenplay does not make many efforts to give Helen a viable reason as to why she has fallen for Paris after a few nights, but then again, he is played by LORD OF THE RINGS alumni Orlando Bloom, whom most women seem gleefully attracted to.

The lovers canít foresee life without one another and flee to Troy and sanctuary.  Meanwhile,  Helen's scorned husband, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), does everything to encourage his brother, Agamemnon (played with power and frequent hilarity by the great Brian Cox), to rouse all of Greece to go to war with Troy.  Gotta give it to those GreeksÖif you even think about stealing one of their women, youíd better expect a fleet of a thousand ships to come and reclaim her!  Who said chivalry was dead?  Maybe Helen should have reconsidered and let off Paris easy by saying that the last few nights were a gross error, but that would be a terrific oversimplification.

Agamemnon enlists the aid of Achilles, the man who is said to be the greatest warrior who has ever lived.  He is played by Brad Pitt as a man of three dimensions that is not portrayed three-dimensionally.  Attempts at giving the character depth are slim at best, as Achilles is more of an enigmatic physical presence then a truly interesting and fully realized character.  Pitt most definitely has the physical chops to play this character effectively and looks the part, but something nevertheless feels out of place with his casting.  He feels vaguely too contemporary for the part and does little to provide an emotional core that, say, Tom Cruise gave to his character in THE LAST SAMURAI.

The rest of the cast and performances are uneven, to say it bluntly.  Helen and Paris are given not much more to do other than to pine for one anotherís affection and look dopey-eyed all throughout the film.  Since this is a film that is squared directly on the shoulders of their romance, their story and respective characters are only sketchly developed.  The film has a lot of dialogue between the two, but its not done with the level of wit, intelligence, and emotional weight that their important relationship deserves.  Oftentimes, many of their scenes and dialogue seem forced and laughably inert.  The filmís heavy-handed approach to their scenes brings the narrative down.

The only saving graces on the performance side are by Brain Cox, Erica Bana (who you may recognize from HULK) and the great Peter OíToole.  Hector (as played by Bana) has heart, depth, and a wonderful animalistic energy (I feel that he steals the scenes away from Pitt).  Brian Cox is quite wonderful as Agamemnon, who provides some of the films greatest intentional laughs.  And Peter OíToole as Troyís King Priam gives the film some much needed class and emotional core that it genuinely lacks.  He occupies the best scene in the film where he sneaks into Achillesí camp to speak to him after he has defeated Hector in hand-to-hand combat.  OíToole is such a master of timing, patience, and sincerity in his performance.  His presence in perhaps the greatest of all historical epics, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, clearly dwarfs his performance and meager character in TROY, but what a refreshing character he is.  In a film populated by big men, big fights, and big special effects, OíTooleís frailty and warmth seemingly save the film.

TROYís strongest area is in the arena of action, and it surly does not disappoint on that level at all.  Much has been made of the preponderance of Petersonís overuse of CGI technology for the battles, but I think he and his effects wizards have achieved an admirable job.  The film has many scenes of awe.  I especially liked the revealing shot of a thousands ships sailing to TROY and the battle between thousands of land troops is expertly handled.  Itís funny and curious, but the individual fight scenes between two men (especially between Hector and Achilles) are actually more engaging then the large-scale battles.  The now infamous Trojan horse makes an appearance in the action packed conclusion of the film that is also tense and exciting.

Itís so terribly difficult to label TROY as a failure.  I would positively recommend it on a level of being a successful action picture with a great eye for period detail.  Itís a bold and wonderful film of sights, and it achieves that level of big historical epic awe that these films need to have.  Itís oftentimes stirring and effective.  Its main problems are in its inconsistent characters and the development of them that, letís face it, the filmís 165 minute running time should have easily taken care of.  TROY is a respectable achievement in the arena of the bold historical epic, but it does not leave you with that overwhelming feeling of perpetual awe that has made the greatest of all epics still memorable today.  Peterson is a great director (his DAS BOOT remains one of the all-time great war films), but his TROY is a flawed epic, a great action film with boring tertiary love stories and uneven characters.  TROY is good, but by no means great.

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