Troy (2004) Review

Troy is someone’s loose take on the Illiad, following the Trojan war and siege of Troy. Basically, Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) of Troy takes the King of Sparta’s wife back to his country with him, leading to the King asking his big brother and ruler of most of Greece, Agamemnon (Brian Cox), to go to war with Troy for stealing his wife. For the King of Sparta it’s all about finding his wife, Helen, but for Agamemnon it’s just a good excuse to expand his empire. Mixed up in all of this you have Achilles (Brad Pitt), the most elite fighter in Greece, who hates Agamemnon but joins the war against Troy solely so his name will be remembered throughout history as being part of one of the greatest wars ever fought, rather than because he has any personal investment in it. Then you have Prince Hector (Eric Bana), who is Paris’ brother and now finds himself leading the army of Troy in a war he knows was 100% avoidable just to make up for his little brother’s mistake.

I think a big thing this film has going for it is the casting. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a full A-list cast and still end up with a tripe film, but in this instance the casting is nothing but a blessing. Brian Cox, although without as much screen time as other characters, really pulls off the arrogant conquerer role well. His best scene doesn’t even have any dialogue; when Paris challenges the King of Sparta to a duel and gets his ass beat, Brian Cox just sits back laughing his head off and is quick to take advantage of the situation to elevate the conflict and justify more violence.

Brad Pitt was also great. But then, I rarely don’t enjoy Brad Pitt. I haven’t read the Illiad, but it’s not exactly a secret that Achilles emotions are sort of all over the place. And I think the guy does a good job of showing Achilles flipping from blood thirsty to sorrowful and then full of revenge, followed by some sort of wisdom rather well. You could say Achilles, despite being the lead character, is the weakest if only because it’s hard to write that sort of person on screen and do it well, but I think they did the best they could and don’t have any major complaints. Of course Achilles wasn’t a straight man seducing women in the Illiad; quite the opposite. In this film Achilles gay lover is replaced with a guy playing the role of his cousin. It doesn’t really change the story that much, but one can’t help but think the change was only probably made because 2004 wasn’t ready for masculine gay men to be on the big screen, despite Zack Snyder’s 300 already having made strides in the homoerotic male warrior department.

All that said, the best performance by far comes from Eric Bana as Hector. In every scene he is just so done with this war and wants nothing to do with it, but he never once feels suffocating or like a downer. He’s actually the most relatable person in the movie, who seems to have some self-awareness the big power-tripping egos of Agamemnon and his father the King of Troy, Priam (Julian Glover), lack. The film does elevate when he’s in a scene.

What I like most is how the magical side of the Illiad is handled. There are rumours of Achilles being dipped in a river and his mother being an immortal goddess, but we see he is just a mostly normal dude… Except for the fact he is so good at fighting that it seems like he came out of a superhero film or something. But on the other hand he still needs to wear armour and carry a shield, all too aware of his own mortality. Contrastly Hector is nowhere near as good a fighter as Achilles. He’s good, and we see him kill a few guys, but he always gets injured in his fights or has to struggle a lot more, whereas Achilles always goes unscathed. The scene where Hector and Achilles fight, after Hector slays Ahilles’ cousin in battle, is by far the high point of the movie. Not only is it well choreographed and full of tension, but it just feels like the point in the movie everything has been working towards. And the climax to the battle is genuinely both rewarding and devastating. Better than it though is the scene thereafter where Achilles mourns and regrets having enacted his revenge upon Hector, and is visited by King Priam who begs for Hector’s body back so he can bury it.

My only complaint would be that the battle is so climactic that afterwards everything seems to slow down and feel a lot less important. Now the two main characters have gone through their anti-war character arcs, all that’s left to do is watch the two big egos at the head of each army fight. And while Agememnon and Priam are both entertaining, neither are all that interesting. Paris is still in the film and at this point is the reason to keep watching, despite not doing much after his fight with the King of Sparta. Though treated as a side character, Paris has layers to him; he talks a lot about ideals and honour but proves to be more of a coward. Not a coward in a bad way but in such a way that when he loses his honour-bound fight to the King of Sparta, he scurries over to his brother for protection rather than face the death he agreed to. Critisise all you want, but I’d do the same if Eric Bana, wearing armour and wielding a sword, were right behind me.

The whole wooden horse thing happens next. Surprisingly it’s the least interesting thing about the whole film, despite it being the thing everyone knows about the story of Troy. Mostly because Sean Bean, who plays Odessyus by the way, just comes up with the idea for the horse out of the blue and then the plan is executed in an extremely short amount of time.

We then see Troy get sacked, Achilles get shot through the heel by Paris and the movie ends with Paris, Helen and Hector’s family fleeing the city.

Despite a somewhat lacklustre end, given like the true climax of the film felt like it should have been Hector’s death and Priam begging for the body back, I really enjoyed Troy. It’s not perfect. There’s some questionable CGI in this one scene where the armies of Greece and Troy clash. And I don’t think it pulls off all of the theatrics, inherent to a story told as a really long poem that is the Illiad, as well as it might think it does, but it still entertains. Where the writing lacks the actors make up for it a lot, and that’s why I praised the casting so much. It especially carries in the movie’s worst moments, comprised of a girl getting stockholm syndrome for Achilles while held captive in his tent for weeks.

It’s quite long, but I didn’t feel the length. And I really appreciated how this wasn’t just a story of Hector and Achilles fighting. The movie played up the idea they were pawns in this needless war and both died needlessly.

So yes, I’d definitely recommend Troy.

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