Film reviews

Troy, Dir; Wolfgang Petersen, Cert; 15

You should all be thanking Ridley Scott and his creation that is Gladiator. He not only brought the old fashioned sword and sandals epic back to glorious life but also surpassed them with a visual panache and crowd pleasing violence. Then Peter Jackson and his leviathan The Lord of the Rings came along and surpassed everything with a knack for great storytelling and the ability to turn fully grown men into ten year olds not seen since the days of Obi Wan and Lord Vader. Other filmmakers have obviously taken notice of this rekindled popularity of ambitious, grand scale war films and in the wake of the mega popular The Return of the King, Wolfgang Petersen’s take on Homer has a lot to live up to.

As academics will know, it is set over 3000 years ago. The Mycenaean King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) has taken over all of Greece with his band of soldiers. However when the Trojan Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) runs off with Agamemnon’s brother’s wife Helen (Diane Kruger) to the city of Troy, Agamemnon uses this as an excuse to attack and conquer the place, with ‘the great warrior’ Achilles (Brad Pitt) leading his men.

Let me cut to the chase – Troy is very disappointing. As per usual, its downfalls lie mainly in the script resorting to the Hollywood cookie cutter. Where The Lord of the Rings marries spectacle with storytelling and an emotional resonance, Troy is just plain spectacle with added insults and plot holes thrown at the audience. The romance between Helen and Paris is there for plot convenience to get the war started and when there is a hint of an insight into their love, the script shrugs it off with one line of dialogue. Achilles’ cousin Patroclus is another macguffin, used just for a twist in the plot. These narrative elements may or may not be true to the original source (my knowledge of The Iliad is weak) but they certainly have no emotional or moral core which grips audiences. They just are there to move things along instead which is lazy filmmaking.

In fact, just about everything here is played for expediency. When the Trojan warriors hold off the Mycenaeans at the gates of Troy, King Priam (Peter O’Toole) and his associates all watch the carnage from the top of a strategically placed booth just so we can watch their reactions and their trademark horrific stares. In one battle there is a small revelation that somehow stops the tens of thousands of men from killing each other and makes them stare at each other as if it was a playground fight that has been interrupted by the headmaster. This is all well and good in a high concept action thriller but in a period piece it is an insult.

 One of the most important things in any war film is the build up to the battle. It should be ever increasing in tension, captivating the audience with an anxious excitement, right until the final moment when the first sword is swung or the first bullet is fired. Petersen certainly knows how to create tension as his U-boat epic Das Boot was masterful at tightening it until it exploded. Why he didn’t employ this technique in Troy remains a mystery. He stacks up the fairly impressive numbers with 1,000 Greek ships sailing towards Troy’s beach and thousands upon thousands of little CGI warriors all impressively realistic and minute in detail clashing with each other with swords and spears flying. Paradoxically these huge numbers don’t feel epic at all, partly because the set up is so flat and rushed.

 After the first hour or so you slowly realise it won’t get any better so you take it for what its worth. This is just a Hollywood action film set thousands of years ago, and while it wasn’t the be all and end all that marketing promised a year ago, it does mildly entertain. The fight sequence between Pitt’s Achilles and Eric Bana’s Hector did delight me. It is a tight, fun, well choreographed piece that outdoes any of the thousands versus thousands battles, if only for Brad Pitt’s strange ballet like prancing and his action hero move where he jumps into the air like Jackie Chan and lunges his sword which will definitely get the crowd cheering.

This is a substandard film that only mildly entertains on rare occasion. Its excellent production values and amusing battle sequences just about save it from hitting rock bottom. 4/10


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