King Priam: I’ve fought many wars in my time. Some I’ve fought for land, some for power, some for glory. But I suppose fighting for love makes more sense, than all the rest.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The stories of Greek Mythology have always been quite engaging reads for me growing up. Among them I wound up reading the Homer’s The Iliad for high school English. In 2004 we got a movie adaptation of the epic tale. The result definitely is something that is acceptable on its own but not something that fully represents Homer’s telling.
The story involves Trojan Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) who falls King Menelaus’ wife Helen (Diane Kruger) and takes her back to Troy just when the kingdoms of Troy and Sparta have achieved peace after years. Menelaus’ brother King Agamemnon uses his brother’s fury convince him to declare war on Troy, as it is the last kingdom preventing his control over the Aegean Sea (having defeated every army in Greece already). To this end they recruit Achilles (Brad Pitt) to join them, as he is a skilled warrior. Despite the fact that he dislikes Agamemnon and knowing he will die if he does, Achilles agrees to fight for the glory.
The story loosely resembles Homer’s tale. It keeps key events like the death of Prince Hector, Achilles withdrawing from the war, his return and vengeance upon the death of the Patroclus, and of course the Trojan horse. Sadly the role of the Gods is completely disposed of in this movie and much of the psychological complexity is sacrificed for some big action. And to the movie’s credit director Wolfgang Peterson knows how to make the action visually pleasing. The CGI is used just to the right amount when it comes to the army and fleet scene to give the respective armies as forces to be reckoned with. And at the same time even at a cost of the psychological complexity the movie knows how to give some feeling to the action when it comes to reenacting a lot of the key one-on-ones. Anything else however is more or less mindless big budget Hollywood action. To the movie’s credit however, even when it is mindless it is not repetitive and the action is spaced out carefully so as to give the movie a steady pacing and the gaps are enough to be kept from becoming boring.
The performances are acceptable for the most part but as mentioned before the sacrificing of psychological complexity makes it difficult to get fully invested in their characters. Many of them feel very cut down to their most basic components. Eric Bana did well in giving the appearance of a Trojan leader and Orlando Bloom had enough charm as Paris. Diane Kruger didn’t really give much of an impression as Helen and she really didn’t feel much like someone who was supposed to be the most beautiful woman of the ancient world. Brian Cox was looked like he was having the time of his life as Agamemnon. Sean Bean isn’t given much to do as Odysseus but he does leave enough of an impression that it would be quite interesting to see him as the title character if they ever did a film adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey. However, what really stood out for me was the casting of Peter O’ Toole as father and the Trojan King Priam. His performance gave the character of Priam multiple layers of humanity as a father and a king. The scene where he begs Achilles to return Hector’s body is without a doubt the most heart-tugging scene in the entire movie.
When it comes to Brad Pitt as Achilles, he feels horribly miscast. It’s not that Pitt is incapable of doing good work and he does look muscular enough but in the book Achilles was always this invincible and intense brute and jerk who lived for nothing more than war and glory. And it was something that just couldn’t be understood by humans. Only the gods were capable of understanding him. Pitt doesn’t capture that personality. The movie portrays him more as this empathetic anti-hero not showing much of his brutal side.
Troy is a fairly watchable movie for anyone just wanting to watch a war movie but as someone who’s a fan of Greek epics it’s very disappointing. The action isn’t all that bad and some of the cast are good choices for these characters but so much of what made the original story so thought provoking and compelling is cut down here. If you’re a Greek mythology fanatic, you’d be better off reading the book.