Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is all screwy. Based on Homer’s The Iliad, it has none of the mythology of that famed poem and features a brooding, moping hero at its center. Brad Pitt spent a lot of time, and did a lot of pushups, preparing for his role as Achilles, and he looks damned good in this movie. But the character he’s asked to portray makes little to no sense, as does the overall approach to this movie.
Admittedly, a bunch of vengeful gods intervening in the business of the Greeks and Trojans might’ve been a mighty big calling, but with $200 million to spend, I want to see Zeus kicking some ass! Instead of addressing Homer’s literary work with the splendor of, say, Peter Jackson’s often faithful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Petersen and company go for a sort of Gladiator rehash. As Russell Crowe bellowed “Are you not entertained?” in Gladiator, Pitt bellows “Is there anybody else?” for this film’s macho catchphrase.
When pretty Helen (Diane Kruger) falls for Trojan prince Paris (a wimpy Orlando Bloom), she decides to high tail it to Troy, leaving her angry Greek husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) behind. Menelaus’ brother, King Agamemnon of Greece (a wonderful and slithery Brian Cox), has been looking for a reason to beat the stuffing out of Troy. The whole “stealing the bro’s wife” thing works for him, so the Greeks set sail for Troy, with a semi-reluctant Achilles—Agamemnon’s greatest and grouchiest warrior—leading the way.
There are large swaths of the film where Pitt isn’t present. There are also portions of the movie where a few happy pills for Achilles might’ve made things a little more viewable. The script has Achilles fighting for Greece and Agamemnon because he feels some sort of date with destiny, even though the politics of the conflict make him brood and cut down to one woman in his bed instead of two.
The filmmakers can’t seem to make up their mind as to what sort of man Achilles is. Is he a god? Is he a villain? Is he a misunderstood fighting machine with the locks of an Adonis and an ass that needs to be on display numerous times?
If Achilles were just a bloodthirsty, glory-seeking Greek hero, then that would’ve hurt his chances of being liked by the average moviegoer. So he’s given a love interest (Rose Byrne) whom he pursues through the streets of Troy shortly after emerging from that famous wooden horse. This way, he can kill everybody in his path, but we can still like him because he’s just earnestly looking for his new girlfriend. Find a direction with the character, and commit to it.
As Hector, another prince of Troy and son of Priam (an impressive Peter O’Toole), Eric Bana delivers the film’s best performance. While Pitt’s Achilles is strangely somber and non-committal, Bana’s Hector is grounded in the sort of consistency the film is otherwise lacking. Bloom, who gets to wield a bow and arrow again (he stands a great chance of being cast as Hollywood’s “Super Arrow Boy"), puts forth some flawed work. It seems that Paris should come off as a selfish womanizer, but the filmmakers appear wary of depicting him as an overall negative. Instead, his character waffles between cowardice and heroics.
Where the characters in The Iliad were more or less pawns in the game of the Gods, Petersen’s take on them chooses to show deeply conflicted human beings with solid religious beliefs. The inhabitants of this Troy are real people. When Achilles takes that famous arrow in the foot, it only hurts really bad rather than being the death blow. That’s not Greek mythology. That’s just boring. (CPL, CR, CS, ER, NM)