Just finished watching Troy for the first time (yes, I know I’m about two years behind with my movie watching…) and several thoughts are on my mind.
First, how do you tackle a subject as epic as the Battle of Troy? How you handle Homer? How you you compress 9 years of fighting and conflict into a movie, even one that’s 2 hours and 43 minutes long? I would say it’s impossible to carry off, and given the circumstances, I think the director did a great job. I wasn’t happy about the shortcuts taken to shorten the battle, but how else do you compress 9 years into a movie? You take out about 8 or so of them by coming up with the wooden horse a little early, that’s how… What’s more, Homer’s poems are almost hallowed in academia. Yes, they’re dusty, but hallowed. Any re-interpretation of Homer’s work is bound to draw criticism, and from pretty vocal voices at that…
The subject matter itself is depressing. We know how it ends, and it ends miserably for everyone involved. There’s no happy ending anywhere. Mass audiences don’t like that, and they show it by not going to the movie. There are few epic movies to be made these days, since most of them have already been filmed, and plenty have even been re-made. The Battle of Troy (the Iliad) was one of few remaining unfilmed literary works. I can understand the excitement of filming “fresh” material, but if I wanted to make a movie from Homer’s poems and this was choice A, I would have picked choice B, the Odyssey. Now that’s a far better choice: happy ending, hope, though dim, is still in sight, glorious return home to a faithful and beautiful wife — now that’s my kind of movie!
It’s hard to carry a movie on the shoulders of a star that can’t act in a dramatic role. I know that’s really harsh, but I had the hardest time finding Brad Pitt believable in the role of Achilles. He didn’t act, he posed. When he didn’t pose, he glowered and frowned, and generally tried to fill a role that even he knew was beyond him. I could see it on his face. At no time was it more visible than in the scene where Peter O’Toole, as King Priam, begs for Hector’s body, so he could give his son a proper burial. The marked contrast between Peter O’Toole’s and Brad Pitt’s acting was, how shall I put it, very, very noticeable! Peter O’Toole was King Priam, and Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt, dressed in set clothes, trying desperately to find a way to act the scene.
The actors and actresses that really carried the movie but probably didn’t get “star” pay are listed here: Peter O’Toole, Brian Cox, Eric Bana, Sean Bean, and Saffron Burrows. What can I say, Peter O’Toole is amazingly believable, as usual. He is a true actor and a master of his craft. Brian Cox was so believable as Agamemnon, I wanted to string him up for his behavior in all of the scenes he was in. Eric Bana, what a wonderful performance as Hector! He let Hector’s honor, sense of duty, love for his wife and anguish at the role he had to play show through so well, that he was the real hero of the movie. Sean Bean, what a wonderful job as Odysseus, or Ullyssees (as this mythological character is known in Romania). I’m really impressed with Sean Bean. His performances are consistently great, at least in the movies I’ve seen. If I ever get to be in a movie, I’d love to be in one with Sean Bean. Great acting, Sean! I’ve always found Saffron Burrows charming and delightful in her performances. It’s a pity she doesn’t get cast in more principal roles. She seems to be stuck in supporting roles, and when she does get placed in larger roles, it’s usually in crappy movies like Deep Blue Sea, which I wouldn’t watch if I was alone on a deserted island and that was the only DVD around.
No, I didn’t forget Orlando Bloom as Paris. But he just didn’t stand out in this movie, certainly not like he stood out in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the Pirates of the Carribean, another soon-to-be trilogy. Maybe it was the script or the direction, or maybe he couldn’t get into the role, but I just couldn’t see him as more than a supporting character. And I also didn’t forget Helen, or “the problem of Helen”, as people put it when the movie came out. How do you find the most beautiful woman on earth? Seriously, people have differing tastes, and beauty varies in different nations and different ages. Plus, it’s really hard to find a really beautiful woman that can act. This is not a stereotype, and no, I’m not talking about blondes. I dare you to go out there and find the most beautiful woman, and see how well she talks, expresses herself, and how healthy (mentally) she is. Most likely, she’ll be caught up in herself, emotionally stilted. And it’s a given that she won’t be able to act. In hindsight, I didn’t like Diane Kruger as Helen, but hey, I didn’t do the casting, and I understand how difficult it really is to find a true “Helen”.
Given all of the issues I outlined above, it’s no wonder the movie didn’t do so well, and it’s still reviewed as average in most places. Yes, I know, it’s easy to analyze something in retrospect, but to be fair, I read one or two reviews when the movie came out, and that was it. I saw it for the first time today, and my impressions are fresh. I still think it’s a good movie, and in time, it’ll become a benchmark for what to do and what not to do in an epic modern production, but for now, it still has to drink its castor oil.