My Big Fat Greek War Epic
(I hope I'm not spoiling anything for those who haven't had a chance to read the book in the 3000 years since it was published).
I won't get into petty squabbles over the changes to the source material (I'm reviewing the film in itself) since the siege of Troy lasted a decade, but almost every major event that occurred during the war happened in the final year. If you were Warner Brothers, you wouldn't want to film the whole thing, either.
I thought Troy was a brilliant, though this was due as to its flaws, rather its success as a narrative. Yet sometimes a flawed masterpiece is far more interesting and compelling than a work of art.
Brad Pitt plays Greek ninja, Tyler Durden in a leather miniskirt. I thought Pitt's excellence rested not so much in how he handled the dialogue (what he was given to say was simply undeliverable, and he was playing a character near-incomprehensible to modern audiences) as in how he expressed the character through physical movements and how he carried himself. It was probably most noticeable in the fight scene with Hector; an athlete at the absolute peak of his abilities has a peculiar ease and unhurried grace of movement (think Barry Sanders running, Roy Jones boxing circa a few years back, etc.) which Pitt absolutely nailed and that allowed me to buy his character in a way I didn't almost anyone else in the film. His character doesn't really match the rest of the fabric of the flick (almost no one's does) but for the movie Pitt thought he was in, his work was excellent. Although when he was supposed to be having those silent brooding moments, his facial expressions looked pretty goofy and proved that he isn't a very good silent actor. He also had the inability to hold any accent; be it American, (accent-less) English, or whatever. His accent changed to the point that it was irritating.
There’s many other acceptable performances in the film as well. Sean Bean continues his run of doing reluctant warriors in gigantic productions, playing Odysseus with absolute perfection in a small role. At times, the film begins to feel like a three hour ad for the Odyssey starring him, as he’s clearly better than nearly everyone else in the picture and his character captures the world-weary but clear-eyed charm of Homer’s original as Bean plays it close to Boromir.
Likewise, star of The Incredible Hulk, Eric Bana’s Hector is spot-on in the sort of sturdy, well-worn fighting man of honor with love for his family role. Bana finds an individuality in the part which is impressive and contributes mightily towards making what does work in the film, which made his death the only depressing one in the film.
Orlando Bloom plays Paris, a sissy creep who just wants lots of hot, men-wearing-skirts, ancient history sex. His role of Legolas (without the fighting ability) almost works - and it’s refreshing to see him work against the type he set himself in with the Lord Of The Rings films and Pirates Of The Caribbean. His Paris comes off as someone who wants to be that sort of character, but isn't. Which is something of a problem given the fabric of the film. He also lacks more than one facial expression.
Also, Lawrence of Arabia plays wizened old man and delivers an immensely respectable performance as the Trojan King, with a subtle seriousness and devotion.
Brian Cox as Agamemnon is awful. His performance drags the film down and ruins any scene he’s in, as he plays Agamemnon as an all but mustache-twirling, one-note, power-mad villain and sadist. As it happens, that’s not far from how he’s written (the entire treatment of this character is a travesty) but Cox simply lazily gives in to the incompetence of the writers, not even mustering the energy necessary to really get a good hold of the scenery.
Furthermore, the performances highlight a major flaw with the film - none of the performances match, which must be counted as a mark against Wolfgang Peterson, the director. Pitt’s stylized performance has nothing to do with Cox’s cardboard Hollywood villain, has nothing to do with Eric Bana’s realistic and nuanced Hector, has nothing to do with…etc. Some actors seem to find grooves with each other - notably Bana and O’Toole - but other scenes such as all those with Pitt and Cox, or Bean and Pitt, are undermined by the sense that they each seem to think they belong in a different movie.
The Colossus of Boggo Road, former WWE Superstar Nathan Jones; the Australian hoss of awkward gravity plays Large Greek Guy #556 in the film. Of course, he quickly gets killed off, but at least it lasted longer than his WWE stint. Another fun fact is that Nathan Jones ACTUALLY hurt Pitt by accident, when they were filming as Pitt strained (ironically) his Achilles Tendon. How that was possible, I don't know, since he didn't get any offense in, but glad to see he hasn't changed that much and is still a walking disaster. I'm guessing he slipped while throwing a spinkick and fell on Pitt (of course, it was edited out). Or maybe he just lactated in Pitt's eye.
For my part, I LIKE action-movie cliches and big CGI battles, so I was somewhat fine with the movie and thought it was quite badass. The battle scenes are excellent for what they are. The course of the action is for the most part clear, the shots and sweeps over the action are stirring and the quality of the action itself is believable. The gore level is enough to remind you that this is, indeed, a movie about men being slaughtered on a grand scale, but avoids the visual pornography some films fall into. There's also a balletic quality to the Achilles v. Hector duel, in which the way it was choreographed and every blow was aimed to kill. There was no harmless clash of swords or spear upon shield. Every strike was meant to impale you or lop your head off and I was glad they agreed to make it that way. Care and attention had gone into providing each fighter with his individual fighting style. I also liked the awesome visual of the great balls of fiery hay.
Wrestling fans should love this movie too, since the it felt like one great wrestling promotion. Hell, Pitt basically plays Shawn Michaels and Bana plays Bret Hart. Hmmm, I guess Hector got screwed! Achilles cousin also resembled Josh Matthews. And Pitt was like Tito Santana with his flying peppercino move. Plus, Troy had that sense of showdown and 'big fight' that is missing in movies today. Everyone who should've fought each other in the movie did.
So, what’s the rub? The dialogue wasn't very subtle: "Of all the princes...I hate him the most". Achilles, obviously, hates him back. Ta Da: instant rivalry! Agamemnon then goes on to cement his appearance as an evil bastard by laughing evilly and proclaiming, at great length, about his brilliance. I mean, if you want people to think a character is evil, have him kill his own daughter. Cinematically, it's a good bit to include. But no, this must be missed out, because then if something from the actual story happened (Heaven forbid!), then the director might actually have had to go with the canon and let Agamemnon live to get his comeuppance at a later date. Also Achilles reminded me more of Shawn Michaels than Arnie, with his petulant whining and constant backbiting of Agamemnon. Achilles was not so suppose to be THAT prominent in the story as it seemed like another Brad vehicle (not that focussing on him is necessarily bad, but they had SO much more to work with here). Pitt also seemed exaggerated at times and his character change from being a ruthless warrior to a lovable character because of some woman, almost made me dislike him.
I could cope with ignoring the Gods, so long it had been consistent. In myth, Achilles' mother is a sea goddess. In the film, she's a woman standing in the sea. Whether as testament to her divine origin or a nod to the canon it was difficult to determine. Achilles claims throughout the film that he is human. Fine. But then, he tells Briseis that he has seen the Gods and that he has spoken to them. Riiight. So, if Achilles is human, then, by default, the Gods do not exist. But he claims to be at least casualy acquainted with them.
Couldn't they have found someone to play Helen who COULD have launched a thousand ships instead of 3 or 4 canoes?
The women were all noble, brave and tragic. Ick. I wished desperately for one of Greek Mythology's Evil women to arrive, which would've certainly made a change from the pretty faces looking like martyrs.
I didn't like the Patroclus plot device where it was unconceivable for a battle-tested general like Hector to call off a successful attack that gives his men a good chance to throw the invaders into the sea, just bacause he killed someone. It didn't make sense. Plus, Patroclus wasn't a child, even by modern standards. Yeah, he was young, but in that time, boys younger than him fought and died and nobody made a big deal about that. Those were the times. If Hector was so shaken by his death and wanted to go home after one kill then he's a big softie, who'd never make a successful general. Additionally, Hector pissed off the mightiest fighter of the opposing army, and instead of pressing his advantage in the hopes to possibly catch Achilles unawares, Hector withdraws and waits for Achilles to come after him. Hector's actions in this case make no sence whatsoever for a successful military leader he's supposed to be and it just seemed like pure plot contrivance for the Achilles v. Hector duel to happen. Which again didn't make sense because as a general, he would've had Achilles shot down by archers and not go outside alone to face him. His role as a general, was to win the war and not engage himself in personal conflict. And what did Hector expect to happen if he didn't fight? The Trojans starve to death because ONE man is standing outside his gates, while his whole army is miles away in their tents?
Andromache, if you're going to marry a warrior, suck it up.
Priam said something suitably heavy to Achilles about his future and this one deep moment in the movie subsides quickly and was over in about a minute, as Achilles more or less says, "Hmm!" and then goes back to cutting the heads off his enemies.
The scene where Odysseus comes up with the idea for the Trojan horse was ridiculous. I could almost see a lightbulb flash over his head and hear 'ding ding ding!' in the background. Speaking of which, how the hell were the Greeks expecting to take Troy before the horse idea? I didn't see a single siege weapon in the movie, not even ladders. Were the Greek army supposed to pile up against the walls until the soldiers in the back can climb on top of the deads and into the city?
Having Agamemnon stabbed to death by Briseis was baldly and pointlessly inserted for marketing purposes, for the sake of having a 'strong female character', as well as incidentally removing the uncomfortable issues of Greek homosexual love, as between Achilles and Patroclus. Agamemnon’s fate is so well known, and so integral to the point of the Iliad, that it’s distressing to realize it was changed partly because the filmmakers thought they couldn’t send an audience out of the theater without some sort of comeuppance for the “villain” of the piece. It’s annoying, it’s an underestimation of the audience, and it completely jerks the viewer out of the moment.
After Achilles gets shot by Paris, I expected him to say "MY ACHILLES HEEL! AHHH!!! MY ACHILLES SPLEEN!!! AAAHHH! NOT MY ACHILLES COLON!!!"
What was the big deal about a 17 day war? How did this make Achilles famous? He won a 17 day war? Never mind that it makes the offering of the wooden horse somewhat implausible, and the Trojan's ready acceptance of the Greeks defeat even more unbelievable.
Paris should've died for his stupidity, which caused thousands of deaths and the destruction of Troy. It's the basic rule of tragedy. The tragic flaw does not goes unpunished.
And of course, you have to wonder if it was worth it in the end. As Troy burns, Paris tells Aeneas (in a desperate nod to the Aeneid) that as long as he keeps the sword of Troy, the Trojan name stays alive. Well, the Trojan name only lives on in viruses, condoms and schools that use it as a mascot, so I guess the Gods got the last laugh on THAT one, too.
Another part of the problem is that there is no one to identify with and one is really not sure who to root for in the movie. They tried to make the Trojans the 'good guys', but it just didn't work, and I don't see how it ever could. After all, Troy started the war by kidnapping a woman at an up-till-then successful PEACE MEETING, and then continued the war by keeping her. How does one make that look heroic? Well, apparently, not very easily. They tried to make you feel sympathy for Helen, but I mean come ON. A huge war because some chick is tired of her husband? And it certainly didn't help that Paris was a trash-talking wimp who never backed up his big heroic promises. They try to make you hate the Greeks by portraying Agamemnon as a greedy old jerk, but it doesn't fit with the setup of the story. The great heroes are Achilles and Odysseus, who are both Greek, so they come across seeming very strange, like heroes who somehow ended up on the wrong side, a side they hated (I kept expecting them both to defect to the Trojan side). Perhaps a better screenwriter could've done a nice job of playing up the ambiguity between good and evil in Troy and made it interesting. Instead the lack of a protagonist and antagonist makes no-one care about any of the characters. When Troy is finally over, you don't feel sad that Achilles has died, or happy that Troy has burned.
The film tries to be anti-war by having several speeches about the uselessness of it all and how it never ends, but then at the same time it revels in the battle scenes, the heroic deaths, the honor of the men and the roar of battle. It wants to have it's cake and eat it too, but in the end all it does is undermine itself in both regards. It tries to move away from the battle for Helen as quickly as it can and make it a bigger thing – but it fails. All the story manages to do is slow the film way down between the battles.
Editing wise I felt that some of the shots were a little rough. The slow motion scenes were choppy as if they extended a shot digitally and the horrible zoom shots like when Sean Bean comes to convince Brad to fight for the Greeks during a lesson with his cousin. The camera zooms into Bean. I mean come on, just cut and leave those shots in the 70's where they belong.
Another thing that irked me is that they don't take the time to even change scenes decently. A song would be playing and then the next minute it just stops and scratches to the next scene.
There was also repeated shots of a Greek soldier turning his head on the beach at night, which was used three or four times.
Although, of particular excellence was the shot of Paris and Helen gazing out over the night sea, their fear mounting with the knowledge that the Greek armies will be approaching on those waves. The particular quality of the shot and the way it’s composed adds a note of menace and impending disaster which is much called for at that point in the story.
EAR RAPE~! The score was exactly the same as the Mask of Zorro. Fair enough, the Mask of Zorro was his work too, but it wasn't even that good to use again. I know James Horner didnt have long to write it (since the studio fired the original composer) but this is ridiculous! From that annoying repetitive "nuh nuh nuh nuuuhhh" to the terrible end credits song and the woman moaning for minutes at a time, "Ahh-yah-ahhh Yaaa hhaaa". It kept cropping up whenever there's a battle about to take place or whenever some hero lies bloody in the sand.
It also aroused my curiosity on how the original rejected score must have sounded.
After 2 hours and change, I thought it was a flawed masterpiece, great in the generalities, despite having a ton of weaknesses before a truly abysmal ending drags it all down.
The major failure of the film as a whole is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be a semi-historical epic, or a character study of men in war, or a grand anti-war picture, or a sword-and-sandals spectacular, or a Hollywood summer blockbuster. Apparently no one, at any point along the line, decided once and for all what they were aiming at, and as a result scenes don’t fit well with each other, performances don’t match, parts of the film strive for realism while others were clearly decided on in marketing group meetings and the whole thing falls under the weight of so many expectations. It’s a film with some amazing things going for it, but it can’t ever quite bring itself to commit to any one direction.
Recommended for Brad Pitt's mesmerizing performance and die-hard fans of choppy, quick-cut camera shots of hand-to-hand combat.
I'd go ***.