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Troy (2004)
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

review by Hugh Slesinger

In Wolfgang Petersen's modern interpretation of Homer's epic poem The Iliad, the audience is witness to a spectacular display of cinematography and elaborate CGI sets, which serve as a backdrop for a storyline that substantially deviates from the original text, but manages to entertain and engage the viewer nonetheless. The omission of the gods, as vengeful and imperfect characters in their own right, creates an initial void of understanding for those unfamiliar with Homer and the nature of the struggle between the Greek and Trojan civilisations, in addition to the mortal men and women who were so greatly impacted by their divine influence. Yet, somewhat conversely, Petersen's choice to exclude the gods serves to update the screenplay, into more of a contemporary freewill experience, by downplaying the relationship between the unfolding sequence of events and the path of fate as pre-determined by the 'will of the gods'.
   As a matter of fact, the director was forced to condense this epic work into a malleable Miramax Hollywood production of a mere two hours and 45 minutes. Among Troy's biggest accomplishments is the accurate portrayal of swift-footed cavalier Achilles (played by a buff, handsome and charismatic Brad Pitt) as a spiteful warrior, complete with cunning tactical prowess, bent on establishing his own mortal remembrance and Grecian historical significance. Pitt wields a sword, spear and shield with impressive deftness and skill as brave Achilles with nothing to lose or fear as evidenced in the statement, "Death is certain whether it be tomorrow or in 50 years!" Most notably, Troy reminds us that it is how we live the life we are given that ultimately matters the most.
   In order to fully comprehend the complexity of the story, the audience must understand what Petersen neglects to divulge, namely the root cause of the conflict between an autonomous Achilles and his ruling King Agamemnon (played by a believably brash Brian Cox.) In the book, Agamemnon is responsible for a mysterious plague that inflicts and kills hundreds of Achilles' fellow warriors, instigated by a disdainful Apollo. In the film, their personal feud is based solely upon the King's refusal to grant Achilles with all of the spoils of the opening battle, specifically his pillaged war bride, Briseis (Australian Rose Byrne). "Imagine a king who fights his own battles," Achilles jabs early on. However, it is clear that Agamemnon's own overwrought emotional outbursts and self-glorified stubbornness is what leads Achilles toward sitting out the following battle against the massing Trojan hordes. Also absent from the prelude is any insight as to how the once humble Shepherd, Paris (played somewhat two dimensionally by teen heartthrob Orland Bloom) has been chosen by Zeus to cause the destruction of Troy as a result of his selection of the goddess Aphrodite as 'the fairest' of all the goddesses at the wedding of Achilles parents, Thetis (a goddess) and Peleus (a mortal.) In The Iliad, Aphrodite rewards Paris with the love of the most beautiful mortal woman Helen (played by Diane Kruger, who looked every bit the part). Without this knowledge it remains ambiguous as to why Helen has fallen in love with Paris and decided it is suddenly time to leave her warmongering husband Menelaous (played by Brendan Gleeson) brother of the ruling Greek king, citing that she "wants a man she can grow old with."
An offering to appease the gods? "My kingdom for a horse?"
- the Trojan King's
unwise choice.

A similar theme is demonstrated by the surprisingly strong performance of the incredible hunk Prince Hektor (Eric Bana) who is torn between the need to protect his family and brother Paris, and his sense of duty to honour his father King Priam (Peter O'Toole) by leading the Trojan army to victory while saving his beloved homeland from a lengthy occupation of invaders. Unfortunately for the novice reader, Petersen chose to exclude several of Hektor's critical character flaws in his screenplay adaptation, including his donning of Achilles' armour, and threats to disrespect the slain corpse of Achillian understudy Patrokolos (by claiming he would throw his body to the dogs of the city instead of allowing a proper burial) which leads the divinely assisted Achilles to seek vehement revenge. Furthermore, Petersen excludes Hektor's false sense of invincibility demonstrated by his decision to continue attacking the Achaean warships after having definitively defeated their armies upon the open plain.
   In Troy, the 'fireball battle' upon the Greek vessels is carried out with dramatic special effects, but against the initial advice of Hektor rather than because of the Trojan Prince's overzealous hubris and refusal to take refuge behind the city's "impenetrable walls." Assisted by strong performances from Sean Bean (The Lord Of The Rings' Boramir) as Odysseus, who plays the a mature mediator between Achilles and Agamemnon, and O'Toole as King Priam (the bereaved father and King of Troy) are performances perhaps worthy of an Oscar nominations for best supporting actors. (This award that has eluded O'Toole now for quite some time.)
   Despite the film's concluding deviance and expansion away from the inspirational origin of The Iliad to its exciting depiction of the fall of Troy and undoing of its main character Achillies, Petersen manages to adequately convey some of the overarching themes common throughout Greek tragedy, including the chaotic discordant effects that accompany unbridled warfare and conquest for empire. Even with the discrepancies between the book and the fate of the avenging Achillies, and inconsistencies of the lover Paris, the film's well-choreographed battles, breathtaking Maltese and Mexican scenery and infamous redemption-based plotline is enough to carry Troy to a measured degree of critical success. By focusing on the futility of military dominance to surpass the power of love, the film serves as a poignant reminder of life's fleeting priorities in our own era of modern theological conflict. Conflicts such as those exemplified in Troy seem to perpetually engross our minds, hearts and wallets and/or economies, but continue to evade any complete or peaceful resolve, which we mere mortals can seem to muster.
Troy

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Fight Club 2: Trojans?
"I want you to hit me
as hard as you can."
- Brad Pitt as Achilles

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