Thursday, May 20, 2004


Troy. Where do I start? Do I start with all the short skirts and the burnished bodies (and that's just the men)? Do I start with a bland Helen that doesn't really look like she would launch a thousand ships? Do I start with the fact that the film, loosely based on the Iliad, proves to be very loosely based on the Iliad? Let's start out with the fact that Iliad-lovers could start to picket this film with all the liberties that it had taken with Homer's great epic. For one, people who shouldn't die end up dying, while some people who were killed off in Homer's opus live on. For cinematic value, for example, Ajax is killed in battle by Hector--when in the Iliad he kills himself after Odysseus beats him out for Achilles' armor after Achilles' death. Oh yeah, there's also the matter of timing, because the whole ten year war is over and done with in two weeks--and Achilles is alive for the Trojan condom-er-Horse incident. Brilliant. I don't mind. The story unfolded quite well, although parts of it were a bit dragging. The best thing for me, however, was taking out all the gods and goddesses (Helen comes into Paris' periphery because of a state visit and not through Aphrodite's intervention). Granted that the immortal bickering was the majority of the fun of things but a war movie-cum-heroic epic seems better off this time without immortals playing the soldiers like chess pieces (anyone remember the wonderfully cheesy Clash of the Titans? I loved that movie, though). Troy now takes on the flavor of a historical--albeit overly dramatic--account that was later added mythological spice by Homer.

I had been awaiting this movie since it was announced about a year and a half ago that Orlando (aaaaay-si-Legolas) Bloom had completed the cast that was composed of Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Sean Bean and the legendary Peter O'Toole. Orli fan that I am, I was quite apprehensive that he was playing the spineless Paris; however, he has been able to create more depth for the character in that there was a realization, and a transformation. Besides, between bellowing bellydancer-nuzzling Menelaus and young, utterly scrumptious, poetic and romantic Paris (half-naked during the first part of the movie)--who wouldn't choose the latter? Depth was also created for Brad Pitt's Achilles' character, for which I have conflicting emotions. He doesn't really come out as particularly heroic, just vaguely troubled. And quite promiscuous, too. Pitt plays Achilles with what seems to be a gnawing sense of insecurity that he is trying to hide behind the fame and glory of war. It doesn't really hide the fact, though, that Brad Pitt seems to be bigger than Achilles, at least in this movie--we cannot get over that this is Brad-bronzed-god-Pitt and his character seems to suffer for it. This begs the question though--who else could have played the greatest Greek warrior if not Brad Pitt, and held his own in this movie? A lesser actor (icon) would probably have been eaten alive by the others in the cast.

The great O'Toole portrays Priam quite well, only saddening for the fact that he didn't listen to his sons--which ultimately causes the destruction of Troy. One of the best scenes in the entire movie is when he implores Achilles to return the beaten body of his son. ("Ah Brad, that there's what we call acting.") Sean Bean also turns in a solid performance as the level-headed and smooth-talking Odysseus--they should shoot the Odyssey with him, it would be quite interesting. Brian (isn't-he-William-Stryker) Cox is rightly menacing and calculating as Agamemnon. My favorite character in the Iliad, though, remains my favorite character here--Hector, Prince of Troy. Eric (thank-goodness-we've-forgotten-The-Hulk) Bana is subtly effective as the doomed prince, conveying a stalwart nobility and honor that seems to be lacking from most other characters yet also being fearful of his impending battle with Achilles.

It is quite entertaining--there are sword- and spear-fights, there are great balls of fire, there are love scenes, and the wondrous Horse. The mano-y-mano fight scene between Hector and Achilles is worth re-watching. There is requisite action and drama, there are pretty girls and prettier guys. There is a clash of cultures--the conquering Greeks with their brash king and their shining, temperamental hero Achilles; and the more laid-back Trojans, with their god-fearing king and their pensive hero Hector. The portrayal of Achilles as a fighter because he does it best awakens some questions--would you be content to continue doing something just because you were the best at it? In this case, he stops at nothing because his ultimate goal is to be immortalized. And, yes, there is a lot of man-kissing and hugging going around (although Patroclus is portrayed as the beloved cousin and not the beloved-period-of Achilles). I am especially touched by the portrayal of the brothers Hector and Paris--this characterization is nonexistent in the Iliad, I think, because Hector and Paris were not brought up together. Paris plays the perfect bumbling little brother foil to Hector's noble older brother; and although his little brother has helped launch the war that will bring their doom Hector, after an initial fit, stands resolutely by his side, until the death. His unfaltering love for country and family are part of what brings about Paris' own transformation; and ultimately seals his fate as the most admirable character in the movie.

Also, I'm glad there wasn't any forced comic relief because that would have been downright inane. There is an inherent problem in the production, though. I cannot place my finger on it. It may be the script, vacillating between being stirring and dragging. It may be that there was no sense of pathos, really, and no stirring emotion brought about by war and killing--but then that could just be desensitized me talking. It may be a lack of imagination in the filmmakers that is visible at times. There is a scene where the Greeks attack the Trojan phalanxes, reminiscent of the attack of Anubis' undead army on the Medji warriors in The Mummy Returns. I couldn't help comparing because in Troy, it was like a sea of gray was attacking a sea of gray--while in The Mummy Returns (by no means a great movie--also standard summer fare), you could see the glistening bodies of the undead warriors break into the stark black of the robed humans. I was also waiting to see Achilles' magnificent armor--I was disappointed.

In any case, it's regulation Hollywood summer fare. There is something to be said about the views on war, though: the movie suggests a permeating melancholia about war--how war is sometimes waged on the pretext of something other than the actual reason (note that Helen's abduction merely gives the power-hungry Agamemnon his chance to sack Troy), how families are affected by war (cut to the haunting face of Saffron Burrows' Andromache), and how the greatest soldiers are sometimes the most troubled. There are also some points on religion, and Achilles' hubris. It may be a trying-hard epic mooching off an actual epic, a mean feat of over-acting by Brad Pitt, and quite dull in some parts; but it is quite a bit more than just a great movie for the summer. I suggest (for the girls especially) watching it twice--the first to ogle at Brad, Orli, Eric, Sean, etc., and the second to actually watch the film. Both instances would be quite popcorn-worthy.

PostScript: The quote for today on my desk calendar seems to bring to mind the brotherly love between Hector and Paris in the movie: "And when with grief you see your brother stray/Or in a night of error lose his way/Direct his wandering and restore the day.../Leave to avenging Heaven his stubborn will/For O, remember, he is your brother still." from Jonathan Swift.

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