In ancient Greece circa 1200 B.C., Paris, Prince of Troy (Orlando Bloom) steals the beautiful Queen Of Sparta, Helen (Diane Kruger), from her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson).
It’s an insult that cannot be suffered and familial pride dictates that an affront to Menelaus is a slap in the face to his brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox), King of the Mycenaeans, who soon unites all the massive tribes of Greece to steal Helen back from Troy in defence of his brother’s honour.
In truth, Agamemnon’s pursuit of honour has another, hidden agenda – he needs to conquer Troy to seize control of the Aegean, thus ensuring the supremacy of his vast empire. The walled city, under the leadership of King Priam (Peter O’Toole) and defended by Troy’s other Prince, Paris’ brother Hector (Eric Bana), is a citadel that no army has ever been able to breach.
For the Greeks, one man alone stands as the key to victory or defeat over Troy – Achilles (Brad Pitt), believed to be the greatest warrior alive. Arrogant, rebellious and seemingly invincible, Achilles has allegiance to nothing and no-one, save his own glory. It is his insatiable hunger for eternal renown that leads him to attack the gates of Troy under Agamemnon’s banner, but it will be love that ultimately decides his fate.
Troy reminded me of the Trojan horse the Greeks use to infiltrate the city: big and impressive on the outside, but filled with malice on the inside that oozes out over the course of its extensive three-hour running time.
David Benioff’s screenplay is the nucleus from which the film’s downfall generates. It’s an all-around mess. The dialogue is laughably bad (one has to wonder if Homer the Simpson and not Homer the Greek poet served as his inspiration), the storyline a muddled, confusing mess and the relationships between the one-dimensional characters are practically deficient of any sense of emotion. Benioff wrote both the book and the screenplay for Spike Lee’s underrated drama 25th Hour, which seemed to have everything, aside from giant battles, that this film is missing.
Petersen’s lifeless directing isn’t much of a help either. The battle scenes look grand in scale, thanks to Roger Deakins’ cinematography and an armada of the prerequisite computer-generated visual effects. Yet, they offer the viewer nothing new. They are predictable and lack any sense of urgency, danger, excitement or awe that is desperately needed to hook us in.
In the non-battle sequences, the only thing Petersen manages to accomplish is accentuating all of the faults of Benioff’s script. The director, who created top-notch (and occasionally quiet) intensity in such works as Das Boot, In the Line Of Fire and even Outbreak is gone and has now been replaced with a man sitting back with gargantuan budgets, playing it safe and predictable.
Eric Bana as Hector and Sean Bean, in a brief role as Odysseus, do give their characters some depth and manage to deliver their lines minus a degree or two of corniness, while Peter O’Toole brings dignity to his role as Priam. He and Brad Pitt share the best scene in the film toward the end, which shows the viewer what could have been.
Speaking of Pitt, he gives Achilles his best effort, resulting in a decent but not great performance, which is understandable considering what he had to work with. He gets the warrior’s cockiness and arrogance down cold, but when it comes to displaying Achilles’ conflicted feelings about serving his king and country, the performance falters. Pitt is a good actor, and it is to his credit alone that his character comes to life in the slightest.
As the young lovers, whose romantic subplot is the cornerstone of the entire film, Bloom and Kruger deliver performances that are both wooden and painful to watch. After Pirates Of The Caribbean and Ned Kelly, this is the third film in which Bloom has delivered a performance that could be easily have been used as timber. He was good as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings films, and now I know why – he rarely spoke. As for Kruger, she may be attractive but she can’t act to save her life. I’ve seen adult film actors who are more convincing and show more chemistry between each other than these two.
The best performance in Troy belongs to the great actor Brian Cox, who plays the film’s one clear-cut villain, Agamemnon. He overplays every single scene he is in, and the results are wonderful. He’s not only playing to the cheap seats, he’s playing to the next towns as well.
Troy could have and should have been something great. It had a solid literary source to work from and, perhaps in better hands, could have been developed into a film to match its Mount Olympus-sized budget. Instead, we get pretty pictures, pretty people and barely a single thing worth remembering. It will no doubt be a big hit worldwide thanks to all the hype and its stars, but its pre-ordained success is something that shall remain, er, Greek to me.