Troy is a popcorn epic focused more on entertainment than enlightenment or a history lesson. After the bloated, boring self-importance of The Last Samurai and The Alamo, we’ll take it.
Director Wolfgang Petersen flirts with the right amounts of intelligent ideas and emotion in the classic story before showcasing the next bout on this Greeks-versus-everyone Smackdown card.
It’s probably the best way to romanticize the legend to a new generation. After all, it is a WWE-looking brute slain swiftly by rebellious Greek Achilles (Brad Pitt) in the opening sequence.
Achilles fights more for glory than he does for Greece, or what it stands for — the slash-and-burn conquering mentality of its king, Agamemnon (Brian Cox). However, Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, has tired of war and negotiates peace with the people of Troy, the last land Agamemnon wants to conquer.
All’s well, until Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom, here a study in cowardice) stows away Menelaus’ wife, Helen, on his ship after an illicit affair. Thus begins a brutal battle for Troy, centralized by the warriors Achilles and Hector (Eric Bana), the leader of Troy’s army.
The supposed deeply felt love between Helen and Paris is in short supply here, but as Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff have adapted the story, their affair isn’t the Grecians’ reason for the war. It’s just the good excuse. Trojan king Priam (Peter O’Toole) eloquently states a war for love is as good as any. But religion, pride, personal glory and greed are the real motivators.
In its best dramatic moments, Troy shows most of its main characters grappling against these issues — Hector bristling at the Trojan council’s over-reliance on divine intervention and Achilles seeking the romantic solace that butts up against his aggressive nature.
Here, Bana and Pitt take what could have been sword-in-hand cutouts and create fully realized characters. Pitt seethes with buried conflict. The resignation on Hector’s face at a key climactic moment is perfect understatement from Bana. And the film is well acted across the board, O’Toole’s plea scene with Pitt alone worth an Oscar nod.
But enough with this character stuff, right? How are the battles? Once it gets past bad early camera movements (either sketchily artistic or hurried re-shoots), look-at-us special effects and James Horner’s spotty score, Troy‘s combat scenes are enthralling.
You see way more of the Grecians’ thousand ships than you do of Helen’s face that launched them. As endless as shots of the special-effect flotillas are Trojan reactions to the Grecian army (given great numbers thanks to digital wizardry). And, at best, Horner’s themes channel Lawrence of Arabia’s majesty. At worst, he’s written an end-credits Josh Groban song that may cause aneurysms.
It’s refreshing then when Troy overcomes any faults not with computer trickery, but with old-fashioned gusto. Every sequence of up-close combat is a scorcher, particularly Paris’ outmatched clash with Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and Hector and Achilles’ inevitable grapple.
Troy closes with a Hollywood ending. Let’s just say the more brutal elements of Achilles’ relationship with Briseis (Rose Byrne) are overlooked. And because of the beefcake on hand, it’s more Bradiator than Gladiator. But it still looks great, moves rapidly and gives us enough to chew on mentally while delivering the visceral jolts it has promised.