Review: Troy

I somehow escaped adolescence without having read either of Homer’s classics: the Iliad or the Odyssey. So minor plot points in the movie Troy (like the siege of the city taking fourteen days instead of ten years) didn’t faze me in the least. Also gone (according to my wife) was anything more than allusions to the Greek gods. In the books the gods were intimately involved in the whole story. If a director must condense a ten-year adventure into two and a half hours of cinema then all this is probably for the good. The god stuff added a lot to the plot and contributed little in value to the story. And let’s get serious. Who really thinks that the siege of Troy lasted ten years? Even Leningrad didn’t hold out that long. So it may well be that the movie is more faithful to any actual events than the books. To make a film about the siege of Troy it is best to stick with essentials. And the essentials are the human parts of the story.

My wife had already seen the movie once and was anxious for the rest of our family to also see it. There was one small problem: the movie had largely disappeared from the cinemas. But we did find a 9 PM showing and tried not to resent paying the $9.25 per ticket admission price. At those prices I should own stock in film studios.

I was anticipating some uneven performances and I found only one. But for the most part I was surprised by the caliber of the acting. Brad Pitt has a body women swoon over. Yet in the few films I’ve seen him in he always struck me as a grade B actor. In this film, probably because of the excellent direction of Wolfgang Petersen, Pitt as Achilles comes across as quite believable. Pitt certainly plays Achilles as a headstrong character in search of immortality, but also with just a touch of human frailty. This makes him surprisingly likeable. The most unwelcome actor was Orlando Bloom as Paris. Like Pitt he was probably chosen for his ability to bring in the coveted adolescent market. And if he had to be cast in a role then Paris is the one since because Paris has the most one-dimensional of parts. Still it is painful to watch Bloom on camera. He has about a half dozen expressions he recycles endlessly. I guess Wolfgang Petersen can’t always work miracles.

Fortunately except for Bloom’s performance the rest of the cast is wholly believable. For a sweeping epic I expected more sets and locations. But most of the movie takes place on a huge Troy set, or on the beaches where Agamemnon’s forces land. The movie does not attempt to hide the violence and depravity of the times. It was an ugly and brutish time to live.

Petersen somehow manages to make the film feel believable. Certainly computers generated most of the armies but it is impossible to tell which fighters are computer generated and which are actors. The thousand ships launched to lay siege to Troy must also be computer generated but they are seamlessly integrated with the props.

Even minus the gods the story is very engaging. It’s a pleasure to watch a film where the special effects work with the story instead of overwhelm it. It’s hard to pick from all the excellent actors and actresses who populate the movie. Agamemnon, played by Brian Cox, is a ruthless and obsessed king of the Greeks. Peter O’Toole plays Priam, king of Troy, wonderfully. It’s good to see Sean Beam back playing another version of the Boromir role. This time he plays Odysseus but hard to distinguish this role from the part he played in the Lord of the Rings movies. Diane Kruger as Helen is a site for sore eyes (she launched my ship) yet manages to be believable despite her extreme beauty. There aren’t many roles for women in this movie but Rose Byrne works exceedingly well in the role of Briseis. She is a Trojan priestess who becomes a slave girl. She ends up falling in love with Achilles (and visa versa). The heat she and Pitt generate is quite real and more than a little touching.

With so many great performances it is hard to pick a favorite. Brad Pitt’s performance was certainly the most surprising. But I enjoyed Peter O’Toole as Priam the best. Although Sir Ian McKellan did a wonderful job in the role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies, had he not been available O’Toole would have been a fine choice for that part.

Of the summer flicks I’ve seen so far this year Troy has been the best. I give Troy 3.5 out of 4 stars. Although the $130M or so in domestic sales it generated is nothing to sneeze at it’s a wonder that this well crafted and well-acted film didn’t do better. I have to assume it is not sufficiently shallow and mindless like other blockbusters such as Spider-Man 2 and Van Helsing to reach the financial stratosphere. Yes. It’s a pity. I hope its modest financial success doesn’t add more fuel to the desire of producers to create yet more movies dumbed down to meet a target market.

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