Movie Review: Troy
By Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"Troy," Wolfgang Petersen's spectacular, literate saga of the Trojan War, may have been preposterously expensive ($175 million), but it's also in a league with Hollywood's top historical epics, ancient or otherwise. It's a stunningly handsome film, with an equally stunning cast and engrossing story - and a movie like this almost has to reach the top ranks in its class to succeed. With its outsize budget and dense, rich literary-historical source (Homer's "Iliad"), it's a huge gamble in today's youth-dominated blockbuster movie market.
But like Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus" or David Lean's 1960s epics "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago," this is a prodigal-spending movie with prodigious rewards. It's a battle epic that laces spectacle with psychology, bloody warfare with eroticism, grand adventure with backstabbing politics.
Petersen follows the classic epic formula. He gives us a charismatic cast, headed by a quartet of talented hunks - Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric ("The Hulk") Bana as Hector, Sean Bean as Odysseus (Ulysses) and Orlando Bloom as Paris.
At the center of "Troy" is the conflict between the story's two great heroes: noble, self-sacrificing Hector and rebellious, egotistic Achilles, two great warriors who are caught in a political trap, subject to the whims and moral flaws of their leaders and peers. Hector is the brother of the impulsive, randy Paris, who steals away Helen (Diane Kruger), the beautiful wife of surly Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) - thereby giving the Mycenaeans' wily king Agamemnon (Brian Cox) the excuse he needs to unite a huge army, crush Troy and give himself dominion over the Aegean region.
Achilles is Agamemnon's top warrior, seemingly invincible on the battlefield (save for his legendary "heel") but unruly and disrespectful to his despised superiors, Agamemnon and Menelaus. Seeing both for what they really are, he saves his loyalties for his faithful legions, the Myrmidons, his cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), his mother Thetis (Julie Christie) and Briseis (Rose Byrne), a lovely slave girl he steals from the Trojan Apollonian temple.
Homer's Gods are absent here; amorality and power politics hold sway. (Writer David Benioff of "The 25th Hour" does borrow the Trojan Horse from Virgil's "Aeneid.") But Pitt's Achilles may be writer Benioff's most interesting conception. Whereas generations ago Achilles was damned as selfish, then, more recently, psychoanalyzed as a gay man in love with Patroclus, Pitt plays him as a rebel samurai. He's right to defy the lying tyrant Agamemnon and save his truest respect for Hector, the man he must kill, and Priam, Hector's brave father.
There is depth to the characters: Achilles' revolt, Hector's tormented loyalty, Paris and Helen's impetuous lust, Odysseus's cunning pragmatism, Agamemnon's evil bullying, Menelaus' cloddish jealousy. The single best-acted scene - Priam's moving appeal to Achilles after the battle with Hector - lays bare most of the emotions churning under the whole movie.
Most of the acting, though, has a stark simplicity. And if Pitt tends to dominate the screen, it's because he's deified by Petersen and cinematographer Roger Pratt's camera eye. Pitt's acting is often underrated because he's so photogenic. Here, his looks are integral to the role, the movie's whole sense of heroic beauty.
Movie epics, from Cecil B. DeMille's on, often awe us with their logistic feats and battles and make us groan at their corniness. "Troy" is a movie that uses today's vast technological resources - digitized crowds and battles, computerized scenery - to stunning effect. Petersen and his technicians create the walled city of Troy, the oceanside beachfront, the complex battles of thousands and the fierce individual fights with amazing effectiveness.
But epics like this, especially DeMille's, were usually susceptible to the charges of historical travesty, and "Troy" isn't immune. Benioff condenses the 10-year Trojan War into a few weeks, and Petersen presents his armies of hunks with a near-homoerotic intensity that reminds you of both his World War II masterpiece "Das Boot" and his gay drama "The Consequence." Pitt's Achilles is also handed some improbable romantic melodrama at the end.
In a way, this nearly three-hour movie is a huge, all-star sword-and-sandals epic, but it has all kinds of compensating rewards: flair and sweep, raging excitement, intriguing characters, visual grandeur - and a scenic force and dramatic intelligence.
Benioff's screenplay may not be up to its Homeric source, but what movie on this book could be? "Troy" pays dues to the great epic poem while generating some real cinematic martial poetry of its own - and never forgetting that war is truly hell.
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; written by David Benioff, inspired by Homer's "The Iliad"; photographed by Roger Pratt; edited by Peter Honess; production designed by Nigel Phelps; visual effects supervised by Nick Davis; music by James Horner; produced by Petersen, Diana Rathbun, Colin Wilson. A Warner Brothers Pictures release; opens Friday, May 14. Running time: 2:43. MPAA rating: R (graphic violence, some sexuality/nudity).
Achilles - Brad Pitt
Hector - Eric Bana
Paris - Orlando Bloom
Helen - Diane Kruger
Agamemnon - Brian Cox
Odysseus - Sean Bean
Priam - Peter O'Toole
Menelaus - Brendan Gleeson
Thetis - Julie Christie
Briseis - Rose Byrne