Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Troy (2004): A Review (Review #4)


As Told By Homer of Springfield...

I can't remember much of of Troy. I do remember a sense of amazement at being introduced to Brad Pitt's ass. I thought it the most beautiful ass I'd ever seen. Pitt must have thought it beautiful too, since it had more screen time than Odysseus. Troy for better or worse can best be described as "Homer-erotic": mixing the Iliad with a bizarre fixation on the physical beauty of Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, and Brad Pitt.

Praise Zeus they weren't fixated on Brian Cox or Peter O'Toole.

The Greek city-states, under command of Agamemnon (Cox) go to war with the city-state of Troy after Trojan prince Paris (Bloom) runs off with Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Neither Paris' brother Hector (Bana) or father Priam (O'Toole) are happy about this, but nevertheless Helen is welcomed.

Surly warrior Achilles (Pitt), somewhat cajoled into going to war, detests Agamemnon and the idea of fighting both for and under him. He'd rather be under Briseis (Rose Byrne), a Trojan priestess taken prisoner. Agamemnon wants her as well, so Achilles sulks. Many times the war could come to an end, but in particular Agamemnon keeps at it until Troy's tragic fall and the death of many heroes.

This film may be based on The Iliad, but any resemblance between the epic poem and the epic film is purely coincidental. I don't claim to be the most literate of men, but as I watched it, I kept thinking the changes made were wrong, wrong, wrong. Where was Cassandra? Weren't Menelaus and Helen reunited in the end? Wasn't Agamemnon murdered by his wife after the fall of Troy? Wasn't Aeneas, along with his father and son, the only Trojan to escape? Wasn't Paris killed before the fall of Troy? For that matter, wasn't Achilles? I do not understand the choices made throughout all of Troy.

Yes, one of the Golden Rules of Filmmaking is The Movie Will Always be Different from The Book. However, this is going too far. Just like one would never accept a film where Romeo & Juliet live happily ever after, you can't accept this bastardization of Homer.

Ironically, the only good scene is the one that sticks the closest to The Iliad: where King Priam goes to Achilles to ask for Hector's body. It helps when you have Peter O'Toole as Priam, here giving the only good performance in the film, reminding us why he is one of the great actors. Curious, when he's in the scene with Pitt, the latter appears to recoil almost in fear. Perhaps Pitt has never come across Actual Acting.

That brings us to the major source of the problem: the performances. With this, The Lord of the Rings, and the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Orlando Bloom has confirmed what I've suspected: he cannot play parts set in contemporary times. I cannot place a specific reason as to why Bloom can only somewhat successfully play in costume or fantasy films. Perhaps his face, voice or body suggest someone not of this time. I can only say that Bloom gave a bad performance, though for him that is closer to normal.

That does not explain Eric Bana, a better actor than Bloom. In Troy, he seems to be channeling the Hulk. You get no sense that this guy is Achilles' equal. He's not the glorious warrior of old, but a brooding, reluctant soldier. Cox, so wonderful in the Bourne films, here devours the scenery, taking the money and nothing more.

Diane Kruger as Helen is only required to be beautiful, so she does all right. Sean Bean is reduced to a virtual cameo as Odysseus, which doesn't give him enough time to make us think he's important. He might have done more, but there can only be one sun in the sky: The Man With the Golden Ass.

All Brad Pitt's choices were curious to say the least. He speaks with this Pan-European accent: a cross between British and German. He's in no way heroic: perpetually angry/moody, not a drop of emotion, not even when his cousin is killed. When Achilles is killed in battle, I wanted to cheer. Who'd want to be around such a jerk? When you have such a horrible person as the hero, there can be no identification. You cannot mourn someone you never liked, let alone rally around him. By making him arrogant, you remove yourself any vested interest.

All that could have been endured. I could even bring myself to forgive them for reducing the still-beautiful Julie Christie to a mere cameo, but not Pitt virtually mooning the audience. The fact that he decided to show his ass four times is so bizarre from a man who was worked his whole career to downplay his looks. One gets the sense he was reveling in how beautiful he was, on what a glorious body he had made. Yes, he did look like a statue of a Greek god. Pity he was as lifelike as one. That Troy earned an Oscar nomination for Costume Design when the most prominent feature is its lack of clothes is quite ironic.

I had gone in with great hopes. Given the time we live in, I had hoped Troy would be an action film that was also intelligent, speaking about the destructive force of war on civilians, how the egos of leaders bring misery to those under them, and how often wars are fought for trivial reasons. There was none of that here. Instead, it ended up a second-rate sword & sandal flick, a B-Picture with A-List Stars.

Ultimately Troy gives new meanings to two phrases:

A Vanity Project, and
Making An Ass of Oneself.

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