The script is more of an adaptation from the Cliffs Notes for The Iliad. We are presented an outline of plot points, but there’s nothing beneath the surface, so the film can head straight to the next action sequence. What baffles me about this choice is that the film is almost three hours, leaving plenty of time for development of characters and their motivations, but the filmmakers fail to provide any. Instead, we see characters following their first impulses like spoiled teenagers, which I’m sure is the way most royalty acts, but that being the sole basis of their characterizations makes it impossible for me to sympathize with their plights, so it turns into a long episode of Troy 90210.
Helen and Paris have to be together, risking hundreds if not thousands of lives, but we don’t know why, other than that she’s hot. The problem with a superficial relationship is that Paris doesn’t look as good as his brother, Hector, so I don’t know if Helen really loves Paris, or if she sees this as a way to escape her awful husband. Menelaus wants Helen back so he can kill her and restore his honor. He talks his brother King Agamemnon, the ruler of most of Greece, into rounding up his forces. Agamemnon is more than happy to comply. He pretends he wants to assist his brother but really, he’s been looking for an excuse to attack Troy for a while and this is a great way to get in. Talk about art imitating life.
Achilles, who I think is our main character, since we spend a lot of time with him and Brad Pitt plays him, is a confusing character. One moment he enjoys fighting, the next he holds back the forces under his command. Achilles hates Agamemnon, yet still fights for him because Achilles wants to make it into the history books. I don’t know why he doesn’t go off on his own adventures. The ridiculous love story that is tacked on should have been lost and instead we could have learned how Achilles’ mother Thetis, the sea nymph, dipped him in the river Styx, making him impenetrable. Of course, the kicker is she forgot to dip the part where she held him so that’s why his heels are vulnerable.
This back-story would have made some sense out of the end. Paris is a great archer. He’s so good in fact that he can shoot into crowds of people battling and only kill his enemies, yet for some reason when Achilles stands alone on a grassy knoll, Paris clips him in the heel. It appears to be a bad shot. Achilles comes after Paris and Paris hits him three times in the chest. Achilles pulls the arrows out of his chest, makes no attempt at the one in his ankle and dies. Everyone is stunned, but no there’s no talk about what happened.
The most interesting character is Hector played by Eric Bana, who is so buff in this movie that they should have painted him green for The Hulk and bypassed the CGI creature. Hector is the greatest fighter in Troy, yet he is smart as well. If more people had listened to him, this whole war might not have happened. He still serves his father even when he believes the decisions are mistakes. He constantly questions how the system works and is still willing to submit to it.
The battle scenes are good, but I’m getting a little bored with seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of CGI characters ramming into each other. Parts of the battle scenes were shot too herky-jerky for my taste. I like to see what’s going on, but the visuals just became colored blurs. I get distracted and wonder if the filmmakers are trying to cover up flaws or else things are too complicated for the camera crew. The best action scene in the whole movie is when the Trojans let loose with rolling fireballs on the beach. It was very realistic to the setting and pretty spectacular under the stars.
The best scene in the whole movie is when Priam sneaks into the Spartan camp, asking Achilles for his son’s body back. Peter O’Toole still has an amazing acting ability that compels you to watch him. He made you think he was in a Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of The Iliad not some dumb, summer action flick. The lines became more important when he spoke them and you cared about what he cared about. This scene comes at about two-thirds of the way in, and while I was pleased with seeing it, it made me long for more and realize what I was missing. I hope he’s choosing not to work often rather than not being offered work.
The film appears to be sending mixed messages. At the start of the film in a different part of Greece, two kings decide that rather than engage in a deadly battle, the best warrior from each group will fight and to the victor will go the spoils. They decide to avoid a senseless war yet that wise decision seems to have been forgotten when the Spartans head to Troy. Hector and his father, King Priam, know that Paris is in the wrong and a compromise surely could have been reached if it had been attempted.
The film looks down on religion, too. The priests of the sun god Apollo counsel Priam and they are always wrong. Apollo’s temple is ransacked and everyone waits for Apollo to respond to this sacrilege, but nothing happens. His power is doubted and mocked. Of course, everyone knows the Greek Gods are mythical. All the ones we have today are real.
If you like adventure films like Gladiator, which I don’t, this might be enough for you, but even though it’s a classic tale, don’t expect much more. I like more story in my movies, so I was bored silly, looking at my watch after an hour, wondering when the Trojan Horse was going to show up so we could leave. However, if it gets more people to read The Iliad then it’s a good thing.