Have you seen Braveheart? Gladiator? Lord of the Rings? The Last Samurai? If you have, you’ve got a real good idea how Troy looks and feels and sounds. To quote some common “geekspeak”: The same “game engine” powers them all. All these battleground epics that I’ve noted have jaw-dropping computer graphic displays aiding and abetting the scenery, the same bass-thumping cacophony of man-on-man warfare. All are loaded with monologues delivered in proud, resolute tones, waxing on all things courageous or treacherous and Machiavellian. They’ve got damsels in distress, men consumed with greed and cruelty and power. Brave men, cowardly men, and cowardly men who transform into brave men.
Troy, however does have two things those others don’t.
Homer and Brad Pitt.
Did you ever think you’d see those two names in the same sentence?
The story of the Trojan War, as recounted in Homer’s Iliad, is the basis for this sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring, always eyeball-grabbing film from Wolfgang Petersen, director of one of the greatest war movies ever made, 1981’s Das Boot. Brad Pitt, as the moody, rebellious and downright hunky warrior Achilles, steps right up to the plate and practically makes us forget how gosh-darn cute he is. He infuses the role with pathos and weight that may just keep the ladies’ eyes off the hairless chest and impressive set of “pythons” for a couple of the 163 minutes in this film.
Homer’s story is a powerful one, a lesson on the vicious, glorious and ultimately futile madness of war. The story has it all. Adultery. Politics. Creative and monstrously brutal warfare. It’s about betrayal and honor and vengeance. In Petersen’s retelling, there’s a major twist dealing with a people who suffer terribly for their allegiance to a myriad of gods. The mess that is created when these gods are asked to do the impossible weaves its way through the tale. Pitt’s Achilles (supposedly a half-god creation) nearly spits when he hears of their supposed powers and the false utopia that their supposed existence dictates. It’s a fascinating subtext to add to the richly prophetic poem, written more than 2,500 years ago.
The story starts as a bit of ancient Greek soap opera. Helen (the somewhat lifeless Diane Kruger) is snatched by Paris (a somewhat lifeless and effete Orlando Bloom) from the brother of Greek king Agamemnon, a growling and thoroughly pissed-off Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Agamemnon (a growling and egomaniacal Brian Cox) agrees to pursue Paris and his brother Hector (Eric Bana), both princes of Troy, all the way back to the legendary un-breached walls of said city-state. Menalaus wants his wife back, so he may kill her in his bare hands for her treachery. Agamemnon wants to add Troy to the Greek city-states that he has under his umbrella. Agamemnon assembles all the armies under his control and convinces Achilles to join him. Achilles, like an ancient Dirty Harry, accepts. He hates this king. Achilles is a warrior, and he will fight because Greece needs him, not Agamemnon. Not like he has anything better to do. This is his main gig, kicking ass all over the Aegean.
Contrasting Agamemnon’s hunger for dictatorial power is the calm, fair-minded king of Troy, Priam (Peter O’Toole, with fucked-up hair and buggy eyes). He is father to Paris and the stronger, much more courageous Hector. When the Greeks hit Troy’s beaches, the battle is on, but not without plenty of surprises and turns and endless speechifying.
It all works though. The battles, especially the Hector-Achilles matchup, are expertly staged. The sets, real or computer-generated, remind one of the Hollywood epics of the ’50’s and ’60s, Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments.
Sure. Helen isn’t as beautiful as you might have imagined she would be. Brad Pitt, as Achilles, is a little too cute to properly portray the cynicism and world-weariness of that character. The dialogue is choked with way too many “Big Important Things About Man and War and Women and Love!”
Somehow, it all comes together. Powered by Homer, CGI, and a shit-load of ass-kicking fun.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].