This version of Greece's war against Troy is derived from Homer's epic poem,
"The Iliad," and Vergil's "Aeneid," the latter work commissioned by Caesar
himself! It recounts the exploits of warrior heroes seeking revenge for the
loss of a woman considered to be the most beautiful of ancient Greece. The
events were of sufficient interest to be of consequence to the Greek gods!
Or so the poets imagined. Was this war a plaything of the gods or was that a
concept to glorify and heighten the consequences?
Director Wolfgang Peterson and screenwriter David Benioff compressed the time
line of the war down from 10 years to a couple of weeks, giving us a more
intense framework for action filled engagements.
Sparking the saga is the love-at-first-sight romance between Helen,
Queen of Sparta, married to uncouth Greek general Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson),
and Trojan Paris (Orlando Bloom) who is as idyllically handsome as she is
beautiful. The fateful meeting takes place during a peacemaking visit of the
Trojans, led by Paris' brother and great general, Hector (Eric Bana). As
traditional enemies, peacemaking between them is of more than passing
All the more ironic, then, that the meeting to commemorate peace leads to
the greatest hostility they've ever known. While Helen's discontent in her
marriage has brought her close to suicide, discovery of her new love makes
the thought of continuing it one of unendurable despair. When Paris asks her
to join him on his return to Troy, she does, and she's welcomed there by King
Priam, Hector and Paris' father.
King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) is outraged on behalf of the cuckolded Menelaus
and sees war as the only means by which to avenge the insult and return Helen
to Sparta. He brings all the Greek armies into one grand alliance and crosses
the seas with a fleet of 1,000 ships and burning rage. Once on this path,
the seeking of Helen turns into something bigger, conquest. He wishes to
rule King Priam's inpenetrable Troy.
Achilles (Brad Pitt), the most fearless and invincible warrior of the time,
reluctantly joins Agamemnon, bringing his platoon of Mymidons. But, because of
his disrespect for the Greek king's objectives and methods, he very much does
his own thing, starting with a beach assault before any of the other Greek
ships make landfall or anchor. In doing so, he establishes a beachhead,
disgraces a statue of the sun god Apollo, and enrages Agamemnon, though not
for the first time.
Into the fray comes Hector, meeting up with the indomitable Achilles for a
first encounter. The fates will have them meet in combat again.
There is a tremendous challenge in attempting to capture the grand scale of
the Greeks' siege of Troy as related by Homer. This one, at a budget
of $175M develops interesting character depth and maintains clarity in the
motivations of the factions involved, to the point that it envelops you with
its collisions of mass power and the mortal combat of individuals. The
appearance of large armies massing against each other, the clash of steel and
armor, are impressive. But the lasting impression comes from the
complexities and motivations of the individuals caught up in a drive to
defend their land against those seeking power or immortality.
It is also a tale of morality, with war being waged along an accepted code of
conduct. The picture documents with revealing detail, for example, the
funeral honors afforded the dead. The principals are shown high on a wooden
pyre, being sent to the afterlife, but not before a pair of coins are
carefully placed on their eyelids so as to provide fare for the "boatman" who
will ferry them to the spirit world. Most interestingly, Priam, who may be
considered the "good" king while Agamemnon is clearly the bad one, after the
Greeks lose the attack on the first day and leave hundreds of dead warriors
strewn on the grounds outside his city's walls, offers Agamemnon an opportunity to
collect the bodies without harm. This affords him the moral position to
plead, later, for a dead body of his own. Who says this is a version of the
story without preserving serious issues derived from the original source?
Good production values enhance the rush to death and heroics, providing
action with majesterial spectacle.
The fate of the picture rests heavily on the credibility of the cast and the
characterizations in the writing. To prepare for this role, Brad Pitt
developed impressive muscle size which, when combined with sharp action
choreography and fearsome intent, makes his Achilles a gripping and
charismatic presence. It's a modulated and engaging performance like none
other in his sometimes overstretched repertoire and a serious effort to
depict a mortal touched by the gods. Those who have been thinking of Pitt as
a lightweight, get over it. This role puts him in the higher division
and might even gain him some award consideration.
But, he's not the sympathetic center of the piece. That position would
likely go, in an ensemble cast of heroic figures, to Eric Bana, who brings
extraordinary conviction and impressive nobility to his role as son, elder
brother, city protector, husband, father and martial tactician. He is as
complex as all the roles he fulfills in the drama, fully nuanced in a rich
portrait of a hero with controlled emotions and cool reason. Our involvement
in the story rests heavily in our regard for his values, his awareness and
his strength of character. This assured performance takes him beyond the
inner turmoil of his "The
The level of acting is uniformly high by a cast that includes Peter O'Toole
(Priam), Saffron Burrows (Andromache), beefy Brendan Gleeson (Menelaus,
husband to Helen), Brian Cox (Agamemnon), and a one-scene cameo by Julie
Christie (Thetis, Achilles' mother).
The 160 minute running length makes one a bit battle weary, but action fans
will glory in the swordplay, epic themes of battle and high minded heroics
of the immortal Greeks of antiquity.
~~ Jules Brenner