by Brian McKay
I must admit, I wasn't thrilled at first at the thought of Brad Pitt running around for nearly three hours in a leather skirt. Nor did I have any interest in some smarmy love story between the increasingly effeminate Orlando Bloom and whatever hot actress du jour they chose to play Helen of Sparta (It was Diane Kruger - beautiful, but in that generic and ultimately forgettable way). But now that I've seen TROY, I'm a bit surprised by some of the bad rap it's gotten - because flaws aside, it's a damn decent film.But there are flaws, make no mistake. Even for a movie about a war that lasted ten years, it's a bit bloated at a running time of nearly 3 hours, gets bogged down in a rather implausible romantic subplot (and I don't mean Paris and Helen - although that one's fairly useless too), and it definitely plays things fast and loose in its adaptation of the source material - although that is probably the least of its sins. Troy was meant to be an entertaining Hollywood blockbuster, not a rigidly adherent historical primer - and on that level, it succeeds.
"Former working titles: 'The Illiad for Dummies', 'Fight Club:1200 B.C.'"
After all, one can hardly fault the filmmakers for taking a few liberties with source material which itself took a historical event and blew it up to mythological proportions. If anything, I respect Troy for stripping away all of the supernatural elements (Achilles' invulnerability, the active participation of the gods, etc.) in an attempt to give us a tale that is at least historically plausible.
Trying to write a succinct plot synopsis of this thing is like trying to write Cliff notes on the Cliff's Notes of the Illiad, but here goes:
Greedy King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) has "united" (or "conquered", if you prefer) all of Greece, with lesser kingdoms ruled by men like his brother, the decadent Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), or the noble-of-heart Odysseus (Sean Bean, aka "Boromir" - whenever you need a good, stalwart supporting actor for a swords 'n sandals epic, Bean's the man!).
On the eve of a peace celebration between Menelaus's kingdom of Sparta, and its neighbor across the Aegean sea, Troy, an untimely love affair blossoms between young Trojan pretty-boy prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) and the young wife of Menalaus, Helen (Diane Kruger). When Paris whisks Helen away to Troy, over the strong objections of older brother Prince Hector (Eric Bana), it puts Menelaus into a rage and gives his brother Agamemnon the perfect excuse to wage war on Troy. However, to do it, he'll need to enlist the services of Greece's greatest warrior, Achilles (Brad Pitt), who fights only for his own glory and harbors no loyalty to any king - much less a right bastard like Agamemnon.
Meanwhile, in Troy, Helen is welcomed into the royal family by old King Priam (Peter O'Toole). The overconfident Trojans (with the exception of the vigilant Hector) are secure in the feeling that their walls are unbreachable, and only begin to take the consequences of Helen's defection seriously when a wall of ships dots the horizon of their shores.
Visually, Troy is a spectacle in every positive connotation of the word. Although the CGI isn't completely seamless, it still provides some stunning vistas of the Greek armada, as 50,000 soldiers storm the beaches of Troy. Likewise, the action is crisp and fluid and well-choreographed (I especially liked Achilles' little leap-attack manuever). By the same token, the performances are generally solid. The real standouts are Bana, O'Toole, and Bean, but even Bloom isn't too wince-inspiring here, and Pitt is a pleasant surprise. Although he carries himself with a decidedly anachronistic swagger and persona, the character slowly grows on you, and Pitt even manages to wrest a little depth from it by the third act, after giving us merely a cock-sure killing machine at the outset. Would someone else have been less distracting in the role? Probably. But Pitt gives a serviceable performance - not his best, but far from his worst.
Unfortunately, his character gets sidetracked by a lame romance with Briseis (Rose Byrne), a member of Trojan royalty who takes a vow of chastity to serve Apollo and soon becomes a spoil of war when Achilles and his men sack the temple on the beach. The eventual romance between them is completely contrived. Achilles and his men attack her homeland, kill her countrymen, loot her temple, and take her prisoner - and yet she tosses aside her emnity and vows of chastity after one night in Achilles tent. Look sister, I know he looks like Brad Pitt and all that, but gimme a break!
Thankfully, the Paris-Helen relationship gets downplayed to minor status, as it is clearly pointed out that the war is not being waged over Helen at all, despite what Menelaus thinks. Troy also redeems itself by painting a rather grim resolution for most of the characters involved, with no clear-cut villains or heroes, and no big rose-petal strewn victory celebration for anyone (well, okay, there is one - when the Trojans wheel in the wooden horse - but we know what happens after that).All in all, TROY is a fitting opener to the summer movie season, with an engaging plot, enjoyable characters, and eye-pleasing visuals and action sequences. Falling somewhere between the likes of GLADIATOR and RETURN OF THE KING, it's as good of an ancient war epic as you're likely to find in this post LORD OF THE RINGS era.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9579&reviewer=258
originally posted: 05/26/04 04:15:33