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A king dumb for a horse
A film review of TROY by Camus

And I thought that The Day After Tomorrow was the perfect "it does what it says on the tin" Summer Hollywood movie. Move over climatologists. Greek legends are back in gown - and fetching mini skirts. They're all here, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector and Paris, a whole host of stars from a time four thousand years ago when being a celebrity meant you were actually celebrated for something. Yes, that something seemed to be mostly an ability to stick bits of metal into other people with gusto and fury but even this has slightly more cachet than being on the front page of Heat magazine.

We all know of Homer. No. The other one, the epic story-teller bronzed by the Mediterranean climate not airbrushed yellow by Korean animators. The Coen's had a crack at The Odyssey and now it's Wolfgang Peterson's turn but whereas the brothers threw metaphor, allegory and 30s depression America into the mix with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Peterson has taken Homer at his words if not his timeframe. What appears to take place in a very vigorous weekend actually unfolded over a decade in The Iliad. And it's a sumptuous, eye popping affair, no question.

Gladiator had a lot to do with Troy reaching the screen. There's almost a checklist of similarities between the two movies. Yet another undistinguished score from James Horner is peppered with an ethereal female voice (for that inspirational creative decision, take a bow Gladiator co-composer and singer, Lisa Gerrard whose style is being quite blatantly 'hommaged'). The digital effects are all present and correct and rendered somewhat less impressive by the casual wave of the hand and the words "Oh, it's all done on computers nowadays," a phrase I heard a few times coming out of the cinema. A little knowledge really chops 'epics' off at the knees nowadays. Photo realistic ancient Greece was wondrous to behold but what of character?

The truly surprising aspect of Troy is the absence of the straight down the line good guys and bad guys. There are warriors beset by doubt, peace loving kings, impressionable youths and of course there is Achilles, more of whom in a moment. There is a duel between Hector and Achilles and I was stunned to find that I wanted both of them to win (this is never a viable outcome in sword and sandal epics) Your heart goes out to both warriors. Both have damned good reasons to fight and both pull out all the stops. But if you know the tiniest bit of this story (perhaps the word 'heel' pops up unbidden) you know who's coming out of this alive.
It was this character driven trait of Troy that I truly admired. Even in pre-production, the film makers must have known that Iraq was about to become a main player on the world stage, forcing war under the political microscope again. It's admirable that Peterson's war epic actually provides an audience with doubt. Yes, there are lashings of machismo, honour, bloodshed and lots of overtime for the software engineers but there is doubt. That can only be a good thing for these awful times we live in.

Brian Cox's vigorous and theatrical portrayal of the empire building Agamemnon is perhaps Troy's identifiably principal bad guy. He's a monomaniacal leader whose greed for conquest drives the film. He most personifies the testosterone power ethic so much on display now, thousands of years later. He says that "Peace is for women and the weak..." and at that line how I wished for a weak female US president. Orlando Bloom plays Paris, the love struck teenager whose actions (stealing Agamemnon's bother's wife, Helen) precipitates this massive conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans. It's quite a career move for this young and much adored actor. In Lord of the Rings he was the cool elfin assassin who could bring down a mega-elephant without breaking a sweat. In Troy he is more teenager than warrior prince and at a crucial moment discovers that Helen may have a face that launched a thousand ships but it's not a face to lose your head over. There were laughs as Bloom faces off against Helen's wronged husband but I suspect that was because he looked decidedly uncomfortable in his battle helmet. As well he might. He was about to be sliced and diced by a man broader than he was tall.

The character acting honours go to the two principal fighters of the piece - Hector and Achilles. Eric Bana is a loving father who knows his city's time has come. Whilst advisors and holy men prattle on about what the gods want, his pragmatic realism comes through as being thoroughly modern. But you care about Hector and when he kills someone by mistake, it's the best moment of the film. In the thick of fierce battle, rival commanders call off the hostilities bringing to mind the impromptu football match on the Somme in the first World War. If only these commanders had sat down and said "What the hell are we doing? We should be having a beer and telling stories. To hell with our kings..." But no.

So how does a 40 year-old heart throb with very few mega-successful movies to his name take TROY on his considerable shoulders and play the almost god-like Achilles? Pitt was nervous. "No pressure, then" was his reply after being approached to play a man more like a god than a flesh and blood human being. I admit a bias for whatever Pitt chooses to do. His Tyler Durden in Fight Club was one of the best performances of any career and his cut price role in Snatch convinced me (as have many interviews) that here was a guy with his head screwed on. Of course, he's unutterably trapped in his Brad Pittness but given that he pulls off Achilles with aplomb, a serviceable English accent and a physicality that is truly mesmeric.

So, there you are, naked, having satisfied two women and you're being called to fight to the death against an opposing army's champion. You're no great admirer of the king you fight for but there's something about being a warrior that may make your name immortal. So far, in 2004, it's working. So you face a giant. And I'm thinking what everyone is thinking. How can Pitt convince us in a single fight that he is the most revered fighter that ever lived? I mean, it took Maximus a few set pieces to cement his reputation. Pitt does it in a single shot and all power to Peterson for having the balls to pull it off. Pitt is fluid, like bronzed mercury, moving his shield in combat as if he knows before the archers pull back their bows where the arrows are going to strike. In fairness, he does know. He's read the script but Peterson retains the awe in which Achilles is bathed throughout the almost three hours' running time.

When the wooden horse arrives, a parting 'gift' left on the beach by the apparently departed Greeks, the cowardly Paris (Orlando Bloom who has at last found his true metier, archery of course) is the only one with the sense to suggest they burn it. Alas, no. Peterson is faithful to Homer and as the burning and capture of Troy is the inevitable consequence, there is a cheering moment when the least likely character manages to slay the blood thirstiest.

All in all, Troy is a worthy epic with some fine performances. It's Hollywood doing what Hollywood can do well, telling a classic story with some passion and a budget to topple countries.


USA 2004
163 mins
Wolfgang Petersen
Wolfgang Petersen
Diana Rathbun
Colin Wilson
David Benioff
from the poem by
Roger Pratt
Peter Honess
Jame Horner
production design
Nigel Phelps
Julian Glover
Brian Cox
Nathan Jones
Brad Pitt
Brendan Gleeson
Orlando Bloom
Sean Bean
Julie Christie
Peter O'Toole