(Review contains spoilers from the 10-year-old movie Troy and the 3000-year-old epic poem The Illiad)
I’ve always been a bit of a fan of ancient warfare, so 10 years ago when I first saw a big screen trailer for a movie about the Trojan War, I was very excited. I remember seeing the pan-out shot of the thousand Greek triremes sailing across the Aegean Sea and thinking “Yes! I must see this!”
And see it I did. But being in high school, I was pretty closed-minded about adaptation and I assumed that a “good” movie would be one that followed the Greek mythos. I went to see it shortly after it hit theaters and I found the movie too inaccurate to be enjoyable. A bunch of people die who shouldn’t, some who should die don’t, many of those that die don’t die in the right way, and a war that was supposed to last 10 years goes for just 17 days. Additionally, the movie takes a realistic approach to the story, stripping out the key interventions by the Greek gods.
Re-watching the movie now, I found the whole thing more interesting.
Here’s the story: Paris (Orlando Bloom), the younger prince of Troy, absconds with Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but Menelaus’s brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox) is eager for war with Troy. To help with his siege of Troy, Agamemnon calls the best warriors and kings of Greece, including Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Odysseus (Sean Bean). Protecting Paris, Helen and the rest of the Trojans is elder prince of Troy, Hector (Eric Bana).
As I said, Troy aims to be a more “realistic” take on the Trojan War. Initially, I thought this damaged the movie. In the original myths, divine intervention pushes much of the story, adding to the tragedy of deaths. However, this time I recognized that Troy adequately replaces the influence of gods with the influence of political pressures. Agamemnon wants Troy, and once Helen leaves with Paris, there is really nothing anyone can do to avoid it. He continuously pushes for war, even as the official reasons for conflict steadily disappear.
But Troy is not as much about the Trojan War as it is about the war’s two greatest combatants: Achilles and Hector. Achilles travels to Troy to ensure his name becomes legend. Hector is bound to protect his city and his family. Each man has his own code and seems to respect both combat and their enemies. However, the movie is designed as a tragedy. The two men are destined to fight, and we get to watch every small mistake and decision that puts them on their collision course.
My problem with Troy it’s too big. It’s trying to tell a big story, develop several main characters, run two love stories and feature multiple battle scenes. Although I wish it was tighter, it’s difficult to say what could be cut out of the film without damaging the story. In the end, the movie runs for a lengthy 160 minutes, with Hector being killed with 45 minutes left to go. It’s like the movie hit its climax and said, “Oh wow. We still need to wrap this whole ‘war’ thing up.”
The only thing that needs to be removed is the love story between Paris and Helen. Troy continually revisits the couple, force-feeding us a story we don’t want to see. Both characters are unlikeable and their selfishness leads to the death of thousands, including the characters we want to see more of. I get that Helen and Paris set the whole war into motion; but since it’s clear that the war will happen no matter what, they should have just killed them off after 45 minutes—its not as though the movie was shooting for accuracy with the source material.
As for the action, the battle scenes are serviceable, taking a more realistic approach to ancient warfare than most. The 1-on-1 combat scenes are the most disappointing though. Achilles fighting style is well choreographed and very original (someone must have worked hard on it). Unfortunately, sudden cuts and camera changes ensure you can enjoy very little of its fluid action.
The one thing that Troy does very well is characters. It does a good job shrinking heroes of myth into believable people and has some fantastic inter-character relationships. This is especially true for Bean’s portrayal of Odysseus and his friendship with Achilles. Bana also does a pretty good job bringing across a Hector that is bound to duty and bravery, but understands the gravity of his actions and the stupidity of the conflict.
I was glad I re-watched Troy because I found it much better than I remember, but I can’t really recommend watching it unless you have nothing better to do. If you want a similar, yet better movie, get Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. The battles are better, there is only one major character to follow, the art style is better and Bloom’s quiet acting fits a blacksmith better than a romantic prince.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Not only does Sean Bean not die, he’s the only major Greek character to still be alive at the end of the movie. How’s that for bizarre?