Troy

May 1st, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Filmink

Starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Saffron Burrows, Peter O’Toole, Julie Christie,

Directed by Wolfgang Peterson

Last Samurai of the Rings, anyone? Is it just being a spoilsport thinking these war blockbusters are all starting to look the same?

Or is it the quicksand of melodrama that infects them, leaving them overstuffed, bloated behemoths when snappily written, well edited and cleverly told stories would vastly improve them?

If melodrama is a quicksand, Troy is in serious trouble, scattered throughout with more than its fair share of 1930’s-era swoons and piercing stares by its many leading men. We know you shouldn’t take it too seriously, but the trouble is that when the movie takes itself seriously, it ends up like the nerd at the party who thinks he looks great but who everyone else is laughing at behind their hands.

Borrowed loosely from the ancient Greek poet Homer’s The Iliad, it tells the story of how a Trojan prince stole the love of the most beautiful woman in Greece, who happened to be married to a king. When she returned with him to Troy, the Greeks declared the greatest war in history in retaliation, led by Agamemnon and the soldier Achilles, who was said to be indestructible.

Technically, director Wolfgang Peterson (last seen sending George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg to their watery graves in The Perfect Storm) achieves a grand vision. And if we hadn’t sat through the same sweeping battle sequences at least three times in the last six months, it might have made more impact.

Warner Bros’ computer operators do as good a job as Peterson in bringing the ancient Aegean region to life, and the buckets of production money have been well spent on truly epic visuals.

But the problem can be summed up in Hector’s (Bana) lecture to bright-eyed younger brother Paris (Bloom) early on. Speaking about the truth of death in war, he says; ‘It’s not poetic, it’s not glorious.’ After that, every subsequent death of a lead character (and there’s barely a single one standing by the end) is a lovingly choreographed, classic screen death — there’s time to stare balefully at one’s killer, whisper choked words of love and hope or sink gracefully to one’s knees before dying.

The all-star cast actually does Troy something of a disservice; there are just too many heroes. With Pitt, Bana and Bloom’s names above the title, their heroic mystique had to match their salary demands.

Pitt is too reminiscent of fellow alpha male Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai — every caressing shot of him, every profound word out of his mouth, every piercing gaze wants to make him all-wise and all-powerful to the point where you can’t believe the character. With almost as much screen time, Bana and Bloom suffer the same fate.

On the upside, there’s no clear-cut good guy and bad guy between Achilles and Hector (nor the armies they command, with the exception of the power mad King Agamemnon). The Hollyclues that usually lay clear cut instructions about the good and bad guys are refreshingly absent and you actually wait for events to unfold, rather than seeing how the events you know are coming will unfold.

The more experienced and credible actors such as O’Toole, Cox and Gleeson look as though they feel silly most of the time — maybe it’s the leather skirts and bathrobes they have to wear. And among Brits, yanks and Aussies of the cast, the accents fall apart badly more than once, often swinging between Elizabethan aristocrat and depression-era Tennessee farmer in a single scene. And Orlando Bloom as Legola- sorry, Paris, needs a serious talking to about the effects of typecasting.

If you want to go deeper than the surface sheen, you can. There’s a strong subtext that violence begets violence and death begets death, and that men are vengeful creatures (men referring to the gender, not the species; in classic Hollywood tradition, the men are the brave, strong, power hungry or honourable while the women have to stay home and cry at all the men dying.

Despite the acting chops and visual grandiose assembled, the only star Troy really wants you to take notice of is the spectacle. To really succeed, it needed more substance. An overabundance of noble heroics makes it heavy-handed and claggy, but without the overzealous dramatics, it would just be another blockbuster-season CG fireworks display.


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