Combined Rating: 4/5
The story of Troy is full of piss and vinegar, and poor decisions. It is fitting, then, that the film, inspired by Homer’s “The Illiad,” doubles down to make that point. What struck me most was how avoidable the incessant tragedy would have been had men’s egos not continued to write checks their bodies couldn’t cash…especially without direct intervention from their conspicuously absent Gods. The likes of King Agamemnon of Mycenae, King Menelaus of Sparta, Achilles, and Odysseus justify continual war as if it’s a cure for boredom…but mostly so we’ll remember their names. How juvenile. The consensual secret abduction of Menelaus’s wife, Helen, by Paris of Troy, is only the latest pretext. And yet, as the fantastical elements and grand scope of the cinematic presentation sweep us up, we roll pleasantly enough through the overt face mugging, the peck glistening, the speech-offs, the curiously overblown death screams, and the awkward philosophizing of the self-obsessed lost, broken up periodically by obligatory early 2000’s-era Arabic ballad-chanting. BTW…Gladiator called, they want their dirge back.
The film looks so damn good, one can almost forgive the sheer ridiculousness of the dialogue. These characters spend so much time pontificating their legendary status’ that their own imminent deaths seem to shock them, even when self-predicted…a pesky side note. Brad Pitt as a stoic Achilles is the worst offender. I’m tempted to call him the weakest link in the film, had he not some of the worst lines to contend with. At one point his own mom gives him the most ineffectual “mother to son” pitch in the history of cinema to which Achilles responds by glinting off into the distance as if weighing the value of his inevitable decision to fight. Cut to his Trireme approaching the beach of Troy, pre-attack, where he offers the suspect line, “Immortality, take it…it’s yours” to his loyal cadre of nameless, doomed soldiers who are probably left wondering in their last seconds how this war is different than all the rest. It’s hard to root for a guy whose entire aura comes off so self-serving and manipulative. But what can we really expect from a character who when confronted by a messenger boy with a reasonable observation about not wanting to face such an intimidating foe as Boagrius of Thessaly, shames him with the flippant, “That is why no one will remember your name.” A true mentor. Overall, the acting is surprisingly strong, especially from Brian Cox (Agamemnon), who seems to be the only actor who realizes he’s in a pretentiously self-aware toga party. Eric Bana, as Hector, grounds the proceedings, serving as the lone voice of reason (to no avail), while Peter O’Toole as Trojan King Priam, channelling his Lawrence of Arabian glory days, does his best impersonation of sober. I only wish there had been more of Sean Bean (Odysseus) who, sporting a dark tan and mullet, makes Boromir look uptight.
I honestly can’t tell if Troy attempts to glorify these infamous warriors, or send them up. Maybe both. It’s certainly easier to buy since the saga is mere legend. Oh wait, they just found the lost city of Troy? Damn. But the film succeeds wildly at highlighting the fine line between honor and stupidity, and especially how one man’s obsession, regardless of whether it’s love (Paris), power (Agamemnon), or timelessness (Achilles), can so easily cause the destruction of thousands of regular families who just want to color-coordinate at the holiday office social.
PS…I’m told the 196 minute Director’s cut of the film fleshes out the characters, and spices up the violence and sex, if you’re motivated by such things. I’m contemplating a viewing, but lacking the motivation of a hard core sword and sandal worshipper.
Frank and I are on a Greek mythology kick (in preparation for going to Greece in person in May!) We’re also reading The Iliad together, and between the two of us we’ve consumed several other books and documentaries on the subject. “Troy” was my pick, as I knew the story more in soundbites than in actual plot: I knew Achilles got shot in the heel (hence the name of the tendon), but didn’t know how or by whom. I knew there was a Trojan horse involved, but didn’t know whose idea it was, or even whether it was constructed by the Trojans or the Greeks. I’m not sure how much of the 2004 film was embellished and how much was in the actual Iliad, since we’re not even a third of the way through it yet, but I am surprised about how little “screen time” the character of Achilles gets in the Iliad, compared to Brad Pitt’s starring role in “Troy.” (Most of The Iliad is just battle scenes, punctuated by insane amounts of backstory for characters we’ve never heard of and who are now dead, so we never will again. Editing had yet to be invented, evidently.)
“Troy” does manage to edit The Iliad for modern sensibilities, though. The demigod Achilles (a perpetually glistening Pitt), supposedly the best warrior who ever lived, technically fights on the side of Agamemnon (Brian Cox). But he’s motivated only by glory, and resents following orders. He’s therefore a loose cannon, yet his fellow soldiers practically worship him—further incensing Agamemnon. For his part, Agamemnon is a prehistoric Alexander the Great, uniting many kings under his banner, including the wily Odysseus (Sean Bean). All of them converge on the city of Troy, supposedly to recover Menelaus’s (Brendan Gleeson’s) stolen wife Helen (Diane Kruger). But really, Agamemnon just wants an excuse to widen his territory. Troy’s legendary fighter is Hector (Eric Bana), crown prince and older brother to Paris (Orlando Bloom), who stole Helen in the first place. You really root for Troy: they’re the underdog against the unified forces of Greece, their king Priam (Peter O’Toole) is a good guy, and Hector is an honorable man who loves his family and his nation. But he’s no match for the arrogant and unreasonable Achilles, who then won’t even allow him a proper burial. When Priam begs Achilles to release his son’s body, Achilles does grant the Trojans the customary twelve days of mourning. But during this time, it’s Odysseus who suggests the idea of making the Greeks a present of a Trojan horse. (Nevermind where they got the supplies to build an enormous horse, or how they got a bunch of soldiers inside of it, or why the Trojans found the thing on the beach, decided it was a present, and dragged it inside their city walls. Details.) Out creep the Greek soldiers after nightfall, opening the city gates from within, and Troy is sacked while the people slumber. As for Achilles, he finally receives that fateful arrow to the heel while rescuing the Trojan girl he loves, in an act that is both his redemption and his downfall.
While on one hand, the story is so over-the-top as to render it heckle-able, I still really liked it a lot. Something about the epic score and the fame of the story reminded me a little of Lord of the Rings, which is one of my all-time favorites. And while it’s a tragedy, really, and I generally hate tragedies, at least Odysseus lives to journey home to Ithaca in The Odyssey. He’s a peripheral character in “Troy,” but because he’s a main character in his own epic tale, it feels like at least somebody survives. I wouldn’t expect to feel cultured after a major Hollywood blockbuster, but I do know the story a whole lot better now!
Meal Pairing: Giant turkey drumsticks smothered in BBQ sauce, Greek salad with lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, and crumbled feta (I’d skip the olives), and a nice chilled Barefoot Riesling, in tribute to the late, great Peter O’Toole.