Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Peter O’Toole, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Rose Byrne
Plot: As Agamemnon (Cox) tries to conquer all of Greece and beyond, his brother (Gleeson) has his wife, Helen (Kruger), stolen by a Trojan romantic, Paris (Bloom), giving him the perfect excuse to start a war with Troy.
The story of Troy has always fascinated film-makers. Based on the Book of the Iliad, it tells the story of a gigantic war between Agamemnon’s coalition of Greek kingdoms and the Trojans, who, behind their giant walls and protected by Apollo the Sun God, believed their tiny forces to be safe from the Greeks’ siege. It features mythical heroes, men thought to be blessed by the Gods, and emotional themes. Here, we see Wolfgang Peterson attempt to adapt this mighty poem into a 2006 film, trimming the narrative to a fortnight and omitting the Gods, in order to give the drama some gritty weight. While certain critics have called this adaptation hollow, Troy is a worthy addition to any fan of the good old swords-n-shields genre.
Troy’s biggest strength is its characters. Usually, you would expect the director to pick a side and write the other ones up as scowling bad guys. Is this a story about Achilles, the mighty legend, leading an army of Greeks’ greatest fighters against the unstoppable forces of Troy, Frank Miller’s 300 style? Or is a story where the Trojans are hopelessly outmatched against an endless Greek force? But in order to fully get across the scale of this battle, Peterson creates heroes and villains on both sides of the wall. For example, this entire war started out because Orlando Bloom’s naïve yet endearing Paris fell in love with the Spartan King’s wife during Troy’s peace treaty. The Trojans cast the first stone and a lot of this story’s power is that, at the heart of all of this killing and war-warmongering, it was all started with a love story (or an affair, if you favour the Greeks in this film). However, Paris and Helen of Troy are never depicted as villains. For one, the husband who finds his wife missing is a barbaric piece of work, greedy, violent and not too pleasant. For another, Paris, while hopelessly foolish, is honest and genuinely in love with Helen. Bloom is perfect casting that dreamy romanticism bleeding into the performance, as he selflessly puts his life on the line for his love, despite having the combat know-how of a Hobbit, rather than an Elf. It also helps that Paris’s big brother, Hector, played by Eric Bana, is easily the best character, a proud, intelligent Prince, endlessly devoted to his city and willing to lay down his life on the line for his country. While his insightful counsel is often over-looked by his father, who puts more faith in the Gods than the men fighting his battles for him, Hector is a valiant chess-piece in the Trojan’s defence of their country. Then there are the Greeks. Brad Pitt cuts a fine hero figure when we first see him and gets the majority of the screen-time, suggesting he is our true hero. Gleaming blond hair, athletic action star body, initially reluctant love interest, Achilles ticks all the usual boxes. However, then we meet him for the first time and that quote about never meeting your heroes becomes a firm hard truth. Achilles might be one of the more honourable figures in the movie, but he has a bucket-load of flaws too. For one, his obsession with legend makes him a very selfish character. He looks down on everyone who doesn’t follow his footsteps to glory, happily sacrifices the men he claims to cherish in order to be the first wave on the beaches of Troy and openly declares his hostility to towards the Gods. Even when he faces off against the Trojans, his dialogue is akin to that of the villain: “You will wander the underworld blind, deaf, and dumb, and all the dead will know – this is Hector, the fool who thought he killed Achilles.” However, there is heart to be found to Achilles, especially as he seems to be the only one of the Greeks to stand up to Agamemnon’s rule (Brian Cox in a career-best turn as the real villain of the piece). Then the Greeks also have the luxury of having the coolest of the side characters: the hulking Ajax, Sean Bean’s silver-tongued Odysseus. Perhaps the critics do have a point that Troy ends up a tad overlong due to its mighty character roster. It cannot escape the feeling that this is the kind of story that requires a Game of Thrones style of dissection. A slow-burning, episodic style of story-telling works best at fully-fleshing the characters. As a result, there are a few too many slow sections in between the battles and the middle of the story is ultimately more gripping than its end, but these are small blemishes in an otherwise delightful piece of film-making.
So with all the characters set in place, Peterson simply lets them go at each other with a budget that suggest the producers were aiming for a LOTR style success. And Troy’s success comes down to the fact that producers rarely take this big a gamble on a picture any more. It is a joy watching legions of extras clash into each other, spears gouging flesh, shields smashing through skulls. The scale of Troy is impressive and for all of the flaws, Peterson has created a marvellous spectacle for the audience to behold. It helps having a cast this big that it is likely a fan favourite might bite the dust at any given moment, adding a touch more bite arguably missing from Lord of the Rings, where the heroes were all relatively safe, until a fixed point in time. But even when the heroes of the piece aren’t getting written off, you feel for the armies and the cities as a whole. When the Trojan arrows tear into the helpless Greek forces, unwittingly running into a trap, you cannot help but feel for the soldiers fighting and dying for a King they do not truly love, for a cause that do not truly believe in. And when Troy finally falls (no spoilers – we all know about the Trojan Horse), your heart will break as the screaming villagers are trapped as their city burns to the ground. But perhaps even better are the one-on-one skirmishes. The highlight of the film is clearly when Achilles and Hector finally meet on the battlefield, a well choreographed duel between the two titans of the movies. It proves how well-rounded the ensemble is that it is almost impossible to guess the winner, as these two mighty warriors are locked in a fiery display of swordsmanship.
Final Verdict: Troy captures the scale of this story with a big budget and great ensemble cast, gifted with a script that accentuates each character beautifully.