USA, 2004. Rated R. 163 minutes.

Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean, Diane Kruger, Rose Bynre, Julie Christie, Saffron Burrows, Garrett Hedlund, Vincent Regan
Writer: David Benioff, based on The Iliad by Homer
Original Music: James Horner
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Producers: Wolfgang Petersen, Diana Rathburn, Colin Wilson
Director: Wolfgang Petersen


Grade: D+ Review by Frances Nicole Rogers

“Is there no one else?”

— Achilles, Troy

Purists often find themselves asking this question after seeing their favorite story desecrated on the big screen. Was there no one else to adapt it? Harry Potter fans have been asking that question of Steve Kloves for years. The least you can say about his adaptations of Harry Potter, though, is that they are entertaining. The same cannot be said for Troy, a bore of an action epic masquerading as an adaptation of Homer's The Iliad.

I am unaware of which Homer's Iliad David Benioff based his Troy on, but it's not the Iliad people have read in school since before Christ. Precisely which Iliad Mr. Benioff read is beyond me, but it's not Greek mythology, and it's not Homer. I'm no classicist, but his butchery was so great that I couldn't stand to be in the movie theater once the movie had ended. That's not entirely his fault, but we'll get to James Horner later.

Back to Mr. Benioff. His Troy is a banal snoozer where the battles are waged with the tongue and occasionally the spear. Oh, there's plenty of action in it, to be sure, and some of it is actually entertaining, but it all adds up to a basic sum of “who cares?” This is the latest blow in modern cinema's attempt to explore the depths of the Gray Area, where there are no heroes, everyone is tricksy, and the audience has to accept them for being human. That works for character studies, not war epics, or at least not for Troy. In Troy the gray area extends only to the Greeks and stops short of offering any criticism for the pure and wholesome Trojans.

According to Mr. Benioff, the Greeks went to war with the Trojans because Agamemnon (Brian Cox), king of Mycenae, was greedy. Of course, there was something about all the suitors of Helen (Diane Kruger) swearing allegiance to help if one of them was ever in trouble, but I guess Benioff didn't read that part. Nope, it's Agamemnon and the Greedy Greeks who sail off to Troy to loot and plunder under the pretense of saving Helen from the clutches of Legolas—er, Paris (Orlando Bloom), the Trojan prince who sweeps her away while he and brother Hector (Eric Bana) are in Sparta on a peace mission. Helen's husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), king of Sparta, whines to his brother Agamemnon and convinces him to go to war.

Brad Pitt in TROY
Brad Pitt gets ready to put audiences to sleep in Troy.

To succeed in war, the Greeks need the greatest warrior of all time: Achilles (Brad Pitt). Achilles is special because he is buff, looks like Brad Pitt, and has Julie Christie as his mother. He is successful with the ladies and makes a pretty good warrior, too. Any appeal beyond these things is a mystery, for Achilles, in this film, is just as much a brute as his wartime spoil, Briseis (Rose Byrne), says he is. He would be more in character pointing and grunting than speaking the terrible English dialogue he and other characters are given.

No wonder at all, then, that one finds oneself rooting for Achilles' arch nemesis, Hector. In Homer, Hector is one of the Evil Trojans who, though having much honor, is an Evil Trojan. In Benioff, Hector is a loveable, (literally) cuddly brother whom no one could ever hate or root against. He loves his wife and kid, he loves his father and brother, he loves his cousins, he loves Troy, he loves everything except having to bring Helen back to Troy. Since anyone with the gift of common sense would identify stealing the wife of a major military power as a bad idea, he's not that far off from being a reasonable man.

The rest of the Trojans are just as cute ‘n' cuddly as Hector. There's Legolas—I mean, Paris, the naïve little brother who fell in love with a girl and lost his head, who's loveable because he's a naïve little brother and (literally) clings to his big brother. There's Briseis, who's loveable because she thinks she's the empowered, man-killing Clytemnestra (the wife of Agamemnon, suspiciously absent from this tale). There's Andromache (Saffron Burrows), Hector's wife, who, with Hector, vies to make the cutest couple this side of the Almeidas on “24.” And then there's Priam (Peter O'Toole), who's lovable because he's, well, Peter O'Toole.

Adding to this confusion of good vs. evil is James Horner (The House of Sand and Fog), hired to replace Gabriel Yared (Cold Mountain) with two weeks of post-production to go. When the Trojans win in battle, his score blares triumphantly. When the Greeks breach the walls of Troy, his score wails with the aide of the ubiquitous female moaner who's been a staple of epic cinema since Gladiator. If we're to talk of his score in terms of good and evil, his is evil. You can't expect, after three years of Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) being the Arnold Schwarzenegger of epic film score composers, to write two weeks' worth of worthless bombast to replace the talented Gabriel Yared and get away with it. And you definitely can't expect to appease audiences with a sappy pop song that plays during the credits. Usually I stay till the end of the credits just to listen to the music. I wasn't staying for that garbage. But James Horner shouldn't be blamed for being hired. It wasn't his fault that he was chosen over someone who probably wrote a better score than he did (probably we'll never know, but we can assume that Yared's score, allegedly deemed too “old-fashioned,” was superior to Horner's two hour sleepwalk).

As for the director, Wolfgang Petersen, he has no creativity. He has no vision, no daring, no artistry, or anything else that a director would need to make a memorable epic. His action scenes are boring. His conversational pieces are boring. The way he directs his actors is boring. In short, his movie is boring. If you think this paragraph is boring, it's nothing in comparison to just how boring this movie gets.

Troy has its moments. That's the most you can say about this movie. You could also say that this movie has Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, and Peter O'Toole. All three turn in fine performances. Cox in particular is one weasel of an Agamemnon, who, had not Benioff so drastically changed his storyline, would have justified his actual end in Greek mythology without having performed those deeds that sealed his fate! Outside this fine triad of actors is Eric Bana, who is head and shoulders above his own triad of eye candy (consisting of himself, Bloom, and Pitt) when it comes to acting. Then again, when one is working next to Orlando Bloom, who really can't act at all (except glower and pout and look Pretty), it's not hard to appear like one's giving a good performance. As for Brad Pitt, his acting doesn't hit its target as much as Achilles' spear does. Pitt attempts with all his might to be the anti-hero and fails. Perhaps that's the point, but when you're playing the lead character in an epic you can't afford to be uncharismatic and brutish.

Sean Bean as Odysseus is worth mention—he's perfect, to say the least. He's so perfect I found myself wishing they'd make The Odyssey. But can you imagine an Odyssey in which the actual length of time Odysseus was missing was something close to two months (since, in Troy, the Trojan War apparently lasted about a month rather than ten years)? Could you imagine an Odyssey in which there's no Circe or Kalypso, but just some made-up female character (who happens to be Somebody's Cousin) Odysseus runs into while he's wandering in his non-mythical adventures (since mythology is, apparently, “silly” and “unimportant to the plot” of Greek mythological tales, according to Petersen)? Could you imagine an Odyssey that's as boring as a wait in the line at the DMV? Could you imagine an Odyssey that can't even be saved by a pitch-perfect performance by Sean Bean?

That's what The Odyssey would be like if Wolfgang Petersen and David Benioff got their hands on it. And it's not some made-up nightmare. It's Troy, right now, in the theaters, playing somewhere near you.

Abandon the 1,000 ships.

Review © May 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

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