An almost epic Troy

May 17, 2004, midnight | By John Visclosky | 16 years, 8 months ago

Troy is a movie about men for men, although the laborious and frequent shots of knotty-muscled, sweaty soldiers battling will no doubt attract their fair share of female viewers. Sure, the film has Helen (Diane Kruger), the name to that lovely face that launched a thousand ships. But Helen's character is largely sidelined; she's an excuse to show brave and genetically well-endowed heroes pit swords and armies against one another. Though not particularly faithful to its source material (the movie was inspired by Homer's The Iliad), Troy is a bloody, overwhelming and intermittently brilliant inauguration of the summer movie season.

The emissary of this inauguration? That would be Achilles (Brad Pitt), the agile, muscled warrior with a knack for taking lives. As played by Pitt, the Greek mercenary is neither saint nor villain, falling somewhere in between to become a subtly layered soldier who kills his enemies by day and cries over their brutalized bodies by nightfall.

But let's not forget that Troy is not exactly billed as a drama. It is an action movie, as the first scene makes brutally evident.

Near to uniting all the Greek states in a loose confederacy, King Agamemnon (a sneering Brian Cox) challenges the best warrior from an army of Thessalonians to a one-on-one duel with his best, Achilles. The first guy to die loses, and the surviving winner accepts control over the loser's armies. Achilles wins the fight, and the land-grubbing Agamemnon celebrates another victory.

The respite from war is short-lived. Soon after Achilles' victory, Spartan King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) enlists his brother Agamemnon's help in storming Troy. It seems that, following a peacekeeping mission to the Spartan court, young Trojan Prince Paris (an insipid Orlando Bloom with easily the skinniest biceps in the movie) smuggled Menelaus' wife Helen to Troy. Already itching to expand his territories, Agamemnon quickly dispatches Achilles and the armies of Greece across the seas to the Trojan shores.

And where is Paris in all this? Well he may get the girl, but he sure doesn't get the glory. Paris pretty much runs away from the war he has started, leaving his battle-weary older brother Prince Hector (a touching and powerful Eric Bana), to defend the almost-impregnable walls of Troy against Achilles and the armies of Greece.

Screenwriter David Benioff's dialogue is sparse but effective. There's not as much pompous speech spouting as might be expected from such a huge film, but that works to the advantage of the movie's crisp pace (remember how it took them hours to get through the speeches and down to the fighting in Braveheart?).

Director Wolfgang Peterson, the Perfect Storm helmer not exactly renowned for doing anything small, shows his maturity and experience as a filmmaker in Troy, deftly balancing quiet scenes between Hector and his wife with immense battles, huge battles, incredible battles.

This was back when war was war, when you had to get right up next to a person to kill them. Forget which army was better equipped, these battles hinge on which force is the most ferocious, the most relentlessly ruthless. Sure there's blood, and more than enough of it, but the battles in Troy are more impressive for their fierceness than their body count.

It may not be The Iliad, and it certainly isn't the most challenging of films, but Troy is a terrific matinee flick that boasts some incredible knock-out, drag-down action set-pieces and an impressive cast. Oddly enough, the most surprising and wonderful hero in the film is not Pitt's Achilles, but rather Bana as Hector.

Hector is the kind of character to be pitied and rooted for indiscriminately, a troubled man who's seen his share of bloodshed and is eager to settle down with his wife and baby son. When his kid brother decides to start a war, Hector stoically goes to battle against Greece. He knows that Troy and maybe even himself are doomed, but he keeps fighting anyway. That's bravery, and the true heart and soul behind everything and everyone in Troy.

Troy is rated R for graphic violence and some surprisingly mild sexuality/nudity.

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John Visclosky. John Visclosky is, suffice it to say, "hardly the sharpest intellectual tool in the shed," which is why he has stupidly chosen to here address himself in the third person. He's a mellow sort of guy who enjoys movies and sharing his feelings and innermost … More »

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