I thought that The Day After Tomorrow was the perfect
"it does what it says on the tin" Summer Hollywood movie.
Move over climatologists. Greek legends are back in gown - and fetching
mini skirts. They're all here, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector and Paris,
a whole host of stars from a time four thousand years ago when being
a celebrity meant you were actually celebrated for something. Yes,
that something seemed to be mostly an ability to stick bits of metal
into other people with gusto and fury but even this has slightly
more cachet than being on the front page of Heat magazine.
all know of Homer. No. The other one, the epic story-teller bronzed
by the Mediterranean climate not airbrushed yellow by Korean animators.
The Coen's had a crack at The Odyssey and now it's Wolfgang
Peterson's turn but whereas the brothers threw metaphor, allegory
and 30s depression America into the mix with O Brother,
Where Art Thou?, Peterson has taken Homer at his words
if not his timeframe. What appears to take place in a very vigorous
weekend actually unfolded over a decade in The Iliad.
And it's a sumptuous, eye popping affair, no question.
Gladiator had a lot to do with Troy reaching the screen.
There's almost a checklist of similarities between the two movies.
Yet another undistinguished score from James Horner is peppered
with an ethereal female voice (for that inspirational creative decision,
take a bow Gladiator co-composer and singer, Lisa
Gerrard whose style is being quite blatantly 'hommaged'). The digital
effects are all present and correct and rendered somewhat less impressive
by the casual wave of the hand and the words "Oh, it's all
done on computers nowadays," a phrase I heard a few times coming
out of the cinema. A little knowledge really chops 'epics' off at
the knees nowadays. Photo realistic ancient Greece was wondrous
to behold but what of character?
truly surprising aspect of Troy is the absence
of the straight down the line good guys and bad guys. There are
warriors beset by doubt, peace loving kings, impressionable youths
and of course there is Achilles, more of whom in a moment. There
is a duel between Hector and Achilles and I was stunned to find
that I wanted both of them to win (this is never a viable outcome
in sword and sandal epics) Your heart goes out to both warriors.
Both have damned good reasons to fight and both pull out all the
stops. But if you know the tiniest bit of this story (perhaps the
word 'heel' pops up unbidden) you know who's coming out of this
It was this character driven trait of Troy that
I truly admired. Even in pre-production, the film makers must have
known that Iraq was about to become a main player on the world stage,
forcing war under the political microscope again. It's admirable
that Peterson's war epic actually provides an audience with doubt.
Yes, there are lashings of machismo, honour, bloodshed and lots
of overtime for the software engineers but there is doubt. That
can only be a good thing for these awful times we live in.
Cox's vigorous and theatrical portrayal of the empire building Agamemnon
is perhaps Troy's identifiably principal bad guy.
He's a monomaniacal leader whose greed for conquest drives the film.
He most personifies the testosterone power ethic so much on display
now, thousands of years later. He says that "Peace is for women
and the weak..." and at that line how I wished for a weak female
US president. Orlando Bloom plays Paris, the love struck teenager
whose actions (stealing Agamemnon's bother's wife, Helen) precipitates
this massive conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans. It's quite
a career move for this young and much adored actor. In Lord
of the Rings he was the cool elfin assassin who could bring
down a mega-elephant without breaking a sweat. In Troy he is more teenager than warrior prince and at a crucial moment
discovers that Helen may have a face that launched a thousand ships
but it's not a face to lose your head over. There were laughs as
Bloom faces off against Helen's wronged husband but I suspect that
was because he looked decidedly uncomfortable in his battle helmet.
As well he might. He was about to be sliced and diced by a man broader
than he was tall.
character acting honours go to the two principal fighters of the
piece - Hector and Achilles. Eric Bana is a loving father who knows
his city's time has come. Whilst advisors and holy men prattle on
about what the gods want, his pragmatic realism comes through as
being thoroughly modern. But you care about Hector and when he kills
someone by mistake, it's the best moment of the film. In the thick
of fierce battle, rival commanders call off the hostilities bringing
to mind the impromptu football match on the Somme in the first World
War. If only these commanders had sat down and said "What the
hell are we doing? We should be having a beer and telling stories.
To hell with our kings..." But no.
how does a 40 year-old heart throb with very few mega-successful
movies to his name take TROY on his considerable shoulders and play
the almost god-like Achilles? Pitt was nervous. "No pressure,
then" was his reply after being approached to play a man more
like a god than a flesh and blood human being. I admit a bias for
whatever Pitt chooses to do. His Tyler Durden in Fight Club was one of the best performances of any career and his cut price
role in Snatch convinced me (as have many interviews)
that here was a guy with his head screwed on. Of course, he's unutterably
trapped in his Brad Pittness but given that he pulls off Achilles
with aplomb, a serviceable English accent and a physicality that
is truly mesmeric.
there you are, naked, having satisfied two women and you're being
called to fight to the death against an opposing army's champion.
You're no great admirer of the king you fight for but there's something
about being a warrior that may make your name immortal. So far,
in 2004, it's working. So you face a giant. And I'm thinking what
everyone is thinking. How can Pitt convince us in a single fight
that he is the most revered fighter that ever lived? I mean, it
took Maximus a few set pieces to cement his reputation. Pitt does
it in a single shot and all power to Peterson for having the balls
to pull it off. Pitt is fluid, like bronzed mercury, moving his
shield in combat as if he knows before the archers pull back their
bows where the arrows are going to strike. In fairness, he does
know. He's read the script but Peterson retains the awe in which
Achilles is bathed throughout the almost three hours' running time.
the wooden horse arrives, a parting 'gift' left on the beach by
the apparently departed Greeks, the cowardly Paris (Orlando Bloom
who has at last found his true metier, archery of course) is the
only one with the sense to suggest they burn it. Alas, no. Peterson
is faithful to Homer and as the burning and capture of Troy is the
inevitable consequence, there is a cheering moment when the least
likely character manages to slay the blood thirstiest.
in all, Troy is a worthy epic with some fine performances.
It's Hollywood doing what Hollywood can do well, telling a classic
story with some passion and a budget to topple countries.