TROY, 2004’s massive crowd-pleaser, was lifted from a mixture of “The Iliad”, “The Odyssey” and “The Aeneid”, from jumbled Greek and Roman historical word of mouth dating as far back as mouth-words go, and of course from the spectacle-movie subculture of the 1950s and 60s. It managed to transcend the predictable snitpickings of flatulent culture snobs by grossing a suitably Homeric half-billion bucks worldwide.
Like the namesake site in Turkey that over 5,400 years has seen nine (so far) cities built upon it, this latest (likely last) construct finds elemental grounding in a bedrock of eternal verities, ensuring that a few killjoys who make hissyfit comments about togas are but so many gnats, dung-perched outside the city walls.
Tale-wise, it’s a no-lose situation. You have one of the original Star-Crossed Loves (paging yummy but apparently not-too bright Helen & Paris), seminal line-in-sand Might v.Right (arch-studs Achilles & Hector) and power-playing rulers (uber-wily Agamemnon & Priam).
Toss in other legendary freebooters like Odysseus, Menelaus and Ajax, air-drop hundreds of burly Bulgarian dudes (for a ‘Euro-flavor’) flown to the Mexican location to complement a thousand local extras, use CGI magic to whip up tens of thousands more, plus hundreds of ships and an entire city. Spend $175,000,000 getting it to mesh into 163 minutes (196 in the bloodier directors cut), another $50,000,000 to market it, have the era’s epic-music champ, James Horner, score with rousing bombast. Let the popcorn fly.
It had been five decades since Warner Brothers sent Robert Wise to Italy to take a swipe at Helen of Troy (fun, in a big bad way), and 33 years since the playbound misfire The Trojan Women. Director Wolfgang Peterson and screenwriter David Beniott left the mythological aspects of the original classics tucked in their Lit Course dust. That makes sense from a sell-project angle: archaic literature too dense, today’s audience has no grounding in The Ancients—they’d laugh it off the screen—and it would be five hours long: the famous siege supposedly lasted for ten years, Achilles dragged Hector behind his chariot for three days, etc.
Of course, this calculated deviation from the accepted telling would not stand for some, whining that the poetry was missing. Pretty much the same crowds who blithered about Cameron’s Titanic—look Borius, just stick to documentaries because you seem to have a base lack of understanding about the business end of the movie business, and I hereby venture (similar to ‘set forth’) much less story-acumen than your snide yawns indicate.
All the lavish production detail copped but a sole Oscar nom, for Costume Design. I’ll grant some flaws. Helen (that would be ‘of Troy’) gets relatively sidelined, so fetching Diane Kruger is actually upstaged by the beauteous Saffron Burrows in a supporting role. Odysseus, arguably at least as important to the tale (scholars, reach for your pipes) is second-tiered, even as engagingly played by a for-once genial Sean Bean. Orlando Bloom gets the unfortunate wuss-role but he handles it; Brian Cox and Brendan Gleeson provide nasty gusto, 6’8″ bruiser Tyler Mane rocks in a brief bit as cudgel-swinging badass Ajax. Julie Christie has a touching cameo; James Cosmo, Rose Byrne, Garrett Hedlund and Vincent Regan work well.
Peter O’Toole, a nine-lives-worn 72, lends a nostalgic link to the old days of the Epic, his effortless class able to invest lines like “Do not mock the Gods!” with regal certitude. O’Toole also created a stir when he let slip his uncensored opinion of Herr Direktor Wolfgang, calling him “that Kraut, what a clown.” Don’t hold back, sire. Eric Bana is really impressive as Hector, for many fans his combo of passion and strength was the most compelling presence in the picture.
The Star, though, no bones about it, is Brad Pitt, and I think he’s superb as Achilles. He got knocked a lot, but it’s the sort of see-thru bitchy twaddle that was likewise dumped on Tyrone Power and Robert Redford: somehow if you’re attractive it also means you’re not serious. Sure, that must be why every big director in the business wants to work with him.
It doesn’t hurt that both Pitt and Bana were in fantastic shape and their excitingly choreographed duel is a classic action high-mark. There are five more mayhem set-pieces in the movie, including one of the most spectacular giant-sized battles ever created. Purists can cuss digital hordes all they want: how else are you going to get 60,000 guys whaling on each other? It’s a jaw-dropper. Troy stands.