directed by Wolfgang Petersen
(Warner Brothers, 2004)

I remember in my youth devouring books such as Homer's Iliad and other epics of classical mythology. While the various hijinx of the gods were entertaining to an extent, the siege on Troy was far more thrilling.

Early reviews and, to be honest, the casting of Brad Pitt as Achilles held me back from watching the 2004 movie version of the story. Now, having finally screened it at home, I have mixed feelings about the film.

Some of the fight choreography and general battle sequences are, frankly, splendid. I was prepared to hate it after, in an initial scene, Achilles kills his large foe with an obvious CGI move ... but the movie recovers in later battles. Also, I was pleased to see the direct involvement of the Greek gods expunged from the tale; let's face it, they would have made the resulting film unavoidably silly.

On the other hand, the film makes several large and unnecessary divergences from the timeless story of Troy, with some characters living or dying simply to mete out the filmmakers' sense of "justice" or to be provide some vestige of a happy ending. Homer's epic story has survived for so many centuries for a reason, guys -- are you really so arrogant as to think you can do better? Sure, the 160-minute-long movie takes less time to watch than the Iliad does to read, and the visual excitement lends weight to the tale, but the changes do nothing to improve the plot.

Much of the dialogue in Troy strains vainly for credibility. Titans of heroic fiction are pared down to action-flick stereotypes spouting banalities and flexing on cue. Computer-enhanced fleets and armies aren't convincing. The calamitous 10-year war concludes in less than a month. And, yes, despite months of body-sculpting, pretty-boy Pitt was a mistake in casting as the greatest Greek warrior of the age.

Eric Bana, on the other hand, proves an exceptional Hector, the mightiest Trojan hero and one of the few men on the field of battle with true honor directing his sword. Orlando Bloom is somewhat believable as Paris, Hector's brother, who seduces women much more easily than he fights -- but, sadly, his epic-inspiring romance with Helen (Hollywood newcomer Diane Kruger) is thinly drawn, weakening the story's foundation. Sean Bean gives a good turn as Odysseus, cleverest of the Greeks, while Brian Cox and Brendan Gleeson make good marks as the less-than-noble Greek kings Agamemnon and Menelaus. Behind the walls of Troy, Peter O'Toole is a strong, compassionate King Priam, providing the movie with some of its best scenes.

Troy is not a movie for Homeric purists. It's a costumed romp and little more. But, at that level, it's an entertaining romp that gives the flavor, if not the scope or substance, of Homer's epic.

by Tom Knapp
8 July 2006

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