The success of director Ridley Scott’s 2000 masterpiece,Gladiator, set the stage for a spate of classically-influenced Greek and Roman tales, epics of love and war. Troy, starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, and the legendary Peter O’Toole, was yet another Hollywood attempt to make the defining epic of an era, like Gone With The Wind defined the early years in American cinematic history and Lawrence of Arabia, the daring of the ’60s. Following the intertwining fates of Achilles (Pitt,) Hector (Bana,) Paris (Bloom,) Priam (O’Toole,) Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and Helen (German model Diane Kruger,) the film, inspired by Homer’s Iliad, but by no means completely accurate, traces the causes of the Trojan War, the personal relationships of those involved, and, ultimately, the fall of the magnificent ancient city of Troy. Director Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, The Perfect Storm) took a screenplay by David Benioff (25th Hour) and expanded it to epic scope, attempting the grandeur that characterized old Hollywood and recently made The Lord of the Rings trilogy the most successful film franchise in history. The direction is heavy-handed but entertaining nonetheless; Petersen fulfills all of the clichés of the epic film, with melodramatic music in far too many places, overwrought sweeping shots of battle, and far too many close-ups of “pained” faces. Many moments of potential value are caricatured by the choice of music, a sort of hymnal chanting mixed with orchestral drama. In one scene in particular, two armies prepare to face one another at the beginning of the film. The sound of thousands of footsteps on gravel resound in the audience’s ears, a blatant effort to “add drama.” The audience is, however, willing to eat out of Petersen’s hand despite the fact that both he and the film try too hard: audience reviews deem the melodrama entertaining in the venue of epic filmmaking. The sheer effort behind the visuals, which are just as often intriguing and well done as they are histrionic and in-your-face, make one appreciate the power of the camera and its amazing scope. There are a few triumphs of direction as well, including a ballet-like, gorgeously choreographed fight between Achilles and Hector that is surprisingly intimate. These two men, alone before the gates of Troy, are the antithesis of the melodrama of the film. They capture the relevant and important message that war is not made of masses but of individuals, each with trials, tribulations, and triumphs of his own. The acting in the film runs the gamut, from the masterful performance of irrepressible screen legend Peter O’Toole to the embarrassingly atrocious Diane Kruger, who should have refrained from speaking during the film. Only her striking beauty makes her presence even remotely palatable. Seven-time Oscar nominee O’Toole, whose performance as T.E. Lawrence in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia defined the epic genre, gives an utterly brilliant performance that commands every scene he is in and, in a way, commands the entire film. His screen presence demands one’s attention whenever his gravelly voice pours out of the screen; his bright blue eyes betray a youthful exuberance that, mixed with a tired body, captures perfectly every nuance of a king watching a hundred-year-old empire fall overnight. His intense pride and passion are wide open for the audience to see, and his quietest scenes, where his grizzled face reflects the stresses of the human condition, suggest that the real magic behind epic filmmaking is not sweeping shots or loud music. The magic is in the faces, movements, and voices of the men and women who control the screen with a truly epic presence that makes tales of grandeur just within the realm of possibility. Brad Pitt is supremely entertaining as the harsh, narcissistic, heroic Achilles; he is truly a blond bombshell of the Golden Era in film, updated with muscles and sandals, and is perfectly believable and charismatic as a man who commands the allegiance of his men in the way that O’Toole commands the allegiance of his audience. Bryan Cox is engrossingly greedy as Agamemnon, and his relish for the spoils of power seeps from his pores. He unleashes every ounce of his energy into the role and, in concert with Pitt and O’Toole, forms the foundation for a character not epic in scope but instead a piece of less-than-nuanced action filmmaking. Indeed, Cox seems a microcosm of the film in general, which strives for the grandeur and scope of the classics of the genre, but falls short and lands where many other summer flicks from Tinseltown do – in a land of escapist entertainment clearly not definitive or brilliant but certainly worth the price of admission. Overall Grade: 5 –
Subscribe to The Phillipian Newsletter!
Read the week’s top stories from The Phillipian, curated for your inbox. Subscribe here!