Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 10/10/04 05:54:40

"Passable summer action fluff."
3 stars (Just Average)

Okay, let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Troy is different from The Iliad. It's a lot different from The Iliad, in fact, but this really shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Considering the adaptability of The Iliad in a modern context, it's frankly amazing that Troy's take on the story is as close to the original work as it is. That's "not very," but then the movie does only claim to be "inspired by" and not "based on" The Iliad.

The gods, unsurprisingly, have been pulled out of the story. Their names are still invoked (the Trojans worship Apollo), but any sense that they are actually affecting the outcome of events is gone. The whole affair is stripped down from the original myths, in fact, removing anything supernatural - Achilles' invincibility apart from his heel, for example. There are still nods to the original material, however; our one look at Achilles' mother Thetis (a sea nymph in Greek myth) sees her standing in the water (collecting sea shells).

Apart from that and various changes that are to be expected in a film adaptation of a literary work, though, Troy mostly treats the major plot points of The Iliad, though it goes on about 30 minutes after the end of that work and adds in the Trojan horse incident that was actually covered not in either of Homer's epics but in Virgil's Aeneid.

Troy is reasonably enjoyable on a basic level, but it has a lot of issues within it - namely how often it tries to have it both ways. Brad Pitt and Eric Bana play the "oh, they're opposites, but aren't they much the same" characters of the film, with Bana as the Trojan prince Hector and Pitt as the Greek warrior Achilles. Both men have fought many wars, and both meditate on the unfortunate nature of this particular conflict and war in general. Achilles in particular makes some comments to the effect of detesting war.

Which is why it is so odd at the various other times when Achilles describes how he's in it for the glory. He talks of having his name remembered centuries later, as though this were the only thing worth living for. Troy wants to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to meditations on violence: sure, it's an abhorrent ritual that tears families apart, but how else is anyone going to know who you are?

The latter is a fairly classical value, at least, but it's one of the few Troy bothers to include. For one thing, the film clearly favors the Trojans. The Greek kings Agamemnon and Menelaus are depicted as blustering bullies (particularly the former, a scenery-chewing Brian Cox), while the Trojan Priam is an honorable man loved by his people and respected by Achilles, his enemy. Hector is probably the most likable character in the film. Paris (Orlando Bloom) and Helen (Diane Kruger)'s love is not played as the mere lust it is represented as in Greek myth, but an honest-to-goodness romance, and one clearly worth going to war over. Sure, Troy gets sacked in the end, because that's what happens in Greek legend, but the Greeks (save Achilles, perhaps Odysseus, and basically no one else) could hardly look worse while doing it. I can understand that the Greeks' attack of Troy was not the most honorable thing ever, but how many movies end up with the villains winning? (The worst characters get their comeuppance, naturally, but then so does almost everyone, because this is faux-Greek tragedy, which also explains all the rumination.)

The violence, whether it's encouraged or not, is at least not depicted in a glorified fashion. Those who have come to see epic battles, however, may be a bit let down. There are a few major conflicts, but a lot of the fighting takes place in one-on-one settings, and those get a bit repetitive by the third or fourth of them.

The most successful blockbusters have the dialogue and characters to sustain them during their quieter moments. Troy is not among the best on this count, but it is far better than it really has to be, so credit should be given to David Benioff (writing his first screenplay not adapted from his own work) for keeping things fairly interesting. The dialogue can be campy at times, particularly anything having to do with the Paris-Helen story, but overall it's rarely cringe-inducing, which is pretty solid for a film of this genre.

The acting, too, is better than you might expect. Bana is outstanding, while Peter O'Toole (Priam) and Sean Bean (Odysseus) both turn in enjoyable supporting performances. Pitt, while a step behind Bana, is still good at conveying the character of Achilles, though occasionally he feels a bit flat. Cox's bluster is enjoyable as Agamemnon. The weak links, perhaps not surprisingly, are Bloom and Kruger, whose scenes together rate as the film's least watchable. Bloom does a decent job conveying Paris' shifts between arrogance, cowardice, and heroism, but he and Kruger have next to no chemistry. (By comparison, the relationship between Achilles and the slave girl Briseis is fairly well done.)

There are certainly things Troy does wrong, and there are things it could do better and positions it could make more clear. Still, many summer blockbusters can't remain entertaining over even 100 minutes, and Troy maintains its watchability for the entire film, 160 minutes that at least will leave very few people checking their watches.

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