Nice troy, but no cigar...

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 15 May 2004 by Craig Eastman
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And you thought you had woman troubles...

"The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships". Helen of Troy may well be a mythological old pile of codswallop, but the almighty battle that followed her slapper antics makes for quite the cinematic prospect. Those thousand ships travelling across the Aegean towards one of the almightiest imagined rumbles in literary history certainly represent quite the opportunity for a director with the vision and capabilities of Wolfgang Petersen. Achilles, Hector, Paris, Agamemnon, Menelaus and several thousand others twatting each other with the sharp ends of their letter openers is as good a recipe as you're going to get for the kind of Swords 'n' Sandals epic stirred back into the public conscience by the success of Gladiator. Quite how it's ended up as such a mediocre experience, especially with a fantastic cast and $200-million to spend, is something of a mystery.

For those unfamiliar with the myth, Homer (not the yellow one) wrote of a decade-long war between the Greeks (Boo! Hiss!) and the Trojans (Yay!) sparked by a minor act of infidelity between Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), the brother of Greek King Agamemnon (the ubiquitous Brian Cox) and the randy young Paris (the insidious Orlando Bloom), younger son of Priam (Peter O'Toole), King of Troy, who steals the young Princess back to his homeland. Get all that? Despite a recent peace between the two kingdoms, Agamemnon has been looking for an excuse to set about the Trojans for some time, so when Menelaus asks him to go to war he pretty much jumps at the chance, gathering the largest army ever seen and roping in the legendary Achilles (Brad Pitt).

And here we have the movie's first stumbling block. The time it's taken you to read this far is almost as long as it's taken for Agamemnon's forces to land on the sands of Troy. Scant regard seems to be given by either the script or director Petersen toward developing any of the characters prior to the first round of ruckus' kicking off, so by the time the first arrows strike home you're both struggling to give a hoot about the men bleeding in the sand and still working on the first half of your hot dog. Still, at least Petersen's intention to keep things 'pacy' is clear, and with plenty of potentially gory confrontations in store things are looking not too shabby.

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Only scratch the gory battles. Troy faces it's own battle these days, mainly a four-way Mexican standoff with Braveheart, Gladiator and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first raised the bar for battle violence in general, the second refining it's predecessor's raw brutality with a swanky line in stylish swordplay and decapitations, while LOTR gave us 50,000-strong armies stomping all over the shop. Troy has neither the lustre nor the conviction of those movies, showcasing sanitised violence of the kind where people spin around a bit when struck by a sword so that any potential wounds aren't visible to the camera. Swinging yer blade across some bloke's face and leaving a red crayon mark isn't really cutting it these days, pun not intended.

There's a distinct lack of both a sense of chaos and the discharge of bowels onto the sand, which, if we're honest, is why we come to see these things. Maybe a decade ago this would have cut the mustard but these days the public ain't going to buy it, not when Russell Crowe thinks bugger all of casually decapitating mace-weilding psychos in a movie of the same age restriction. Couple this seeming lack of enthusiastic mayhem with the nonchalant disregard for character building and Troy risks being buried in the very sands on which she'd pretend to stage such a spectacle. Mind you, so far I've chosen to highlight the movie's flaws when there are many things it does do well. I'm such a "glass half empty" kind of guy...

Certainly on a visual (if not visceral) level Petersen and his crew have crafted a thing of beauty. While the battles may be duds, there's still a bit of "wow" factor to be had in certain scenes, such as the camera pulling back to reveal the endless Aegean fleet and the many stunning moments of sandy vistas and shimmering waters. Man cannot survive on eye candy alone, mind you, so thank goodness the cast acquit themselves well for the most part. Indeed Pitt as the barbarically portrayed Achilles gives particularly good account of himself, being perhaps the only cast member given a decent opportunity to flesh out his character as the story progresses. Initially painted as a simple, albeit amazingly talented thug, Achilles proves himself to be quite the philosopher in some respects, gradually revealing his thoughts on war and forbearance of Agamemnon toward his own goal of immortality in death. Come the movie's end (which not to spoil anything involves a certain bloke coming the cropper of his weak ankle), Achilles may well be the only one whose fate you feel even slightly interested in.

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While the others do well to fill their be-sandled roles, none of them rise above better-than-average. Second-billed Bana is perfectly serviceable as Hector, whose love for his brother Paris leads to his intervention in his little brother's personal battle, although he does struggle with the accent a little. Speaking of Paris, Orlando Bloom manages to play exactly the same role, in the same pseudo-theatrical delivery of dialogue as he has in his last four major pictures, and he still feels woefully out of his depth. Quite why studios insist on giving him such important roles when he clearly isn't up to the task is beyond me. He may well be eye candy for the ladies, but in this case they're more likely to be ogling a well-oiled and muscled Mr. Pitt to notice the irksome little oink retreading well-worn mannerisms. Placing him in such a critical role is certainly a mistake, as his crucial relationships with Bana's Hector and Kruger's Helen are frankly dud, mostly through no fault but his own. Why would Helen choose to risk such a conflict for this little squirt? Hmmm, answers on a postcard please.

O'Toole's inclusion reeks of Oliver Reed syndrome; what modern epic is complete without a massively well-respected member of yester-year's thespian brigade assuming an important role to bolster it's credibility? Here as Priam he seems largely superfluous, consigned to token moments of wisdom toward his two sons. His one scene of substance, a visit to Achilles' tent to beg for the body of Hector to be returned for proper burial, reeks of apathy when it should have been emotional dynamite, coming as it does at a crucial point in Achilles' character arc. Other characters suffer too, Petersen's preoccupation with dud battle scenes offering them scant opportunity to flourish, which in a story primarily about relationships is something of a cardinal sin.

Brendan Gleeson, Saffron Burrows, Rose Byrne and Sean Bean (well maybe not him) have their talents dashed on the rocks of a mediocre script, potentially intriguing sub plots such as Achilles' relationship with Byrne's Briseis, cousin of Hector and Paris, consigned to the status of secondary interest. Even the political ambitions of Cox's Agamemnon are distilled to the two dimensional character traits of your average Bond villain. At least he has fun with his role, investing occasionally wayward enthusiasm in his every scene. "Then every son of Troy will daaaahye!" he growls convincingly. And who are we to argue? Oh, and the horse came across as a little wooden too...

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Yup, Troy is an odd beast. There are moments of almost-greatness amongst the flotsam of the Greek fleet and the jetsam of the Trojan stronghold, but overall the package is somewhat sullied by a general air of apathy. One of my biggest gripes is the whereabouts of that $200-million. Sure you get a big digital horse and a digital boat cut and pasted thousands of times, but the rest? Having read little of the production of the movie I cannot claim to have any opinion on where the gargantuan cost may have been absorbed, but it certainly ain't all on screen. Again, Gladiator offers more spectacle, more brutality, better acting and much more overall satisfaction, and it cost a fair wedge less than this to produce.

I feel a little harsh in my observations, mostly because in all honesty Troy is a film I desperately wanted to like, and I truly was willing it all the way through to blossom into a thing of beauty. Unfortunately almost every aspect remains distinctly average throughout, and for this kind of money, in this day and age, average just don't cut the mustard. Troy will no doubt clean up at the box office thanks to an unusually pervasive advertising campaign and the presence of messrs Pitt, Bana and Bloom. I doubt, however, that it will outperform the Crowemeister's outing, and in honesty it doesn't deserve to.

I have no doubt the intentions of all involved were honourable, and it's obvious the arduous shooting conditions necessitated great conviction from all the movie's cast. Wether the heat got the better of them all I'm not sure, but there's an overall lack of polish here and thrusting a sweaty, baby-oiled Pitt in front of the camera for the ladies is no substitute for a quality script and gloriously mortal combat. Also, Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom again? The Fellowship of the Ring survived it. This doesn't.

Disko awards this movie 3 out of 5 'Me' Units.

Wolfgang Petersen
Cast list:
Brad Pitt (Achilles)
Eric Bana (Hector)
Orlando Bloom (Paris)
Diane Kruger (Helen)
Brian Cox (Agamemnon)