Dir: Wolfgang Petersen.US. 2004. 155mins.
If, in the end, Troy fails to stir the heart as much as it dazzles theeye, it is nevertheless one of the most intelligent and ambitious tentpoleblockbusters to come out of Hollywood in some time. After all, it took someguts and not a little hubris to take one of the cornerstones of literature,Homer's Iliad, and turn it into an audience-friendly summer movie. Butpowerhouse film-maker Wolfgang Petersen has never been intimidated by achallenge, and Troy impresses on more levels than it disappoints.
With global audienceawareness for the movie at a fever pitch, Troy is guaranteed massive boxoffice success when it opens simultaneously in 46 countries on May 14. It's ameaty and substantial film which will play longer in the market than athrowaway effects or comic-book movie and should certainly approach the heightsalready scaled by the father of the new wave of sword and sandals pictures Gladiator($457m worldwide) or at least Petersen's last picture The Perfect Storm($325m).
Troy also possesses thatrarest characteristic in Hollywood movies - a timeless story which has appealto both genders and all adult demographics without need of any marked dilutionto please them all. Older boys and men who responded to Gladiator willrelish the film's adventure, action, heroism and scale, women will enjoy thetragic passions of the romantic story and thrill at the sight of Messrs Pitt,Bana and Bloom in various states of undress.
Although rated R in the US,15 in the UK and 12 in Germany for its extended scenes of brutal battle,exhibitors need not be concerned about restrictions on audiences. Petersen hasbuilt it, and they will come.
Star screenwriter DavidBenioff, who has long harboured a passion for writing a film about the Trojanwar, won't please classicists and Homer purists with his adaptation, but thenagain they are not his target audience. He has taken out the gods from thestory, abridged the length of the war considerably and brought in the story ofthe Trojan Horse, which was never in Homer, to finish the story.
The film launches straightinto the war after a brief prologue introducing the mighty Greek warriorAchilles (Pitt), who reluctantly helps Greek king Agamemnon (Cox) annex kingdomafter kingdom in his thirst for power.
Young prince of Troy Paris(Bloom) is on a peace mission to Sparta with his brother Hector (Bana) when hebecomes smitten with the beautiful wife Helen (Kruger) of Spartan king Menelaus(Gleeson). The two embark on a passionate affair and Paris steals her away withhim on his return to Troy, much to the horror of Hector who foresees doom whenhe discovers the deed but agrees to continue onwards to Troy and their fatherKing Priam (O'Toole).
Menelaus seeks help in hisrage at the affront from his brother Agamemnon, who sees Paris' folly as a wayto conquer Troy and expand his kingdom. He amasses a vast army (a thousandships, indeed) to launch an attack on Troy and, with the help of Odysseus(Bean), enlists Achilles and his powerful Myrmidons to join the army, eventhough Achilles is warned by his mother Thetis (Christie) that he may neverreturn home if he goes to Troy.
As soon as the Greeksapproach the coastal fortress city of Troy by sea, Achilles makes an initialstrike, sacking the temple of Apollo, routing the Trojan defences andkidnapping Briseis (Byrne), one of Priam's nieces and a virginal priestess ofApollo. The arrogant Achilles quickly falls for Briseis and, when Agamemnonseizes her for his own amusement, he withdraws from the battle.
Indeed Achilles watches asthe Greeks are massacred in their first direct assault on Troy, resulting inthe deaths of Ajax (Tyler Mane) and Menelaus, among others. But when his youngcousin Patroclus (Hedlund) is killed by Hector in a night-time skirmish, hecomes back to battle in a rage, determined to take his revenge.
The scene is set for theultimate showdown between the greatest warriors of Troy and Greece.
Petersen is served well byhis cast, especially the magnetic Bana who seals his status as leading manmaterial with a muscular turn as Hector. Bana is the anchor of the film, andfits the material better than Pitt who shows conviction (and his perfectlytoned physique) but never quite shakes his 21st-century swagger asAchilles. Bloom is suitably fey as Paris, Cox and O'Toole exercise their chopsin key supporting roles and Byrne makes for a feisty love interest.
The chief shortcoming of thefilm is its failure to personalise the characters beyond the mythology. Thereis no history to the Paris/Helen romance and it generates not a second ofpassion on screen, indeed the few scenes of intimacy between any of thecharacters are underwritten and there is no humour whatsoever.
By the time the tragedy,nobility and grand gestures surrounding Hector's death and burial occur,audiences should be sobbing - but, alas, Troy cannot generate that emotion. Infocusing on the epic nature of the tragedy, Petersen and Benioff have neglectedto make the story resonate on a personal level for contemporary audiences.
Shot in Shepperton Studiosin London and on location in Malta and Mexico, Troy is a truly spectacularproduction and the sets of the city itself recall the great classics ofHollywood in the 1950s. Petersen's camera swoops majestically over thebattlescapes, although don't look too closely or you will quickly spot thecomputer-generated footsoldiers scampering across the dunes.
Prod cos: Radiant Productions, Plan B, Warner Bros Pictures
Worldwide dist: Warner Bros
Prods: Wolfgang Petersen, DianaRathbun, Colin Wilson
Scr: David Benioff, inspired byHomer's The Iliad
Cine: Roger Pratt
Prod des: Nigel Phelps
Ed: Peter Honess
Mus: James Horner
Main cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana,Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Rose Byrne, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson,Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie, Saffron Burrows, Garrett Hedlund, Julian Glover,Nigel Terry, Trevor Eve