A Trojan Tragedy
I've never read Homer's epic poem "The Illiad," it wasn't part of my schooling and I've never felt a longing to read it, but I can hazard a guess and say that Wolfgang Petersen's "Troy" does not do it justice. And the reason I say that with some confidence is that whilst "Troy" is a big, expensive movie which is closer to 3 hours than 2 it just doesn't feel epic. What we have is a movie which takes Homer's "The Illiad," alters a few things, casts various beautiful actors and then focuses on delivering action rather than telling the story. It wants to be "Gladiator" but surprisingly doesn't have the depth and so ends up an impressive but surprisingly shallow experience.
On a peace keeping mission to Sparta, Paris (Orlando Bloom) the young brother of Hector (Eric Bana - The Time Traveller's Wife) falls for the beautiful Helen (Diane Kruger - National Treasure: Book of Secret) of Sparta and they flee together back to Troy where Paris and Hector's father Priam (Peter O'Toole) accepts Helen. Angered by this treachery Helen's husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) persuades his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) to rouse all of the Greek army to head to Troy so that he can get vengeance on this betrayal. Whilst Agamemnon agrees he has an ulterior motive and with his hero Achilles (Brad Pitt - Ocean's Eleven) plans to take Troy for himself.
Now to be honest there is a lot of storyline to "Troy" more than can be dealt with properly in a movie of 163 minutes. And as such whilst the focus ends up on the battle as Agamemnon and Achilles attack Troy it all seems crammed together with a rushed intro which establishes that Agamemnon is power hungry, that Achilles is a brilliant warrior but dislikes Agamemnon and that Menelaus's wife Helen runs away with Trojan Prince Paris. It ends up feeling very shallow, just a series of big dramatic scenes with no narrative linking them together. And it is one of the reasons why "Troy" never feels like an epic, it is too focussed on the set pieces than telling the story.
The knock on effect of this, the cramming in of a lot of story and the focus on the set pieces is that many of the characters lack depth. And to be honest there are a lot of characters to deal with from Paris and his brother Hector through to Agamemnon, Menelaus, Helen and of course Achilles. It becomes a case that "Troy" ends up coming across as a movie which focuses on looking good than delivering any depth and it is certainly the case with Brad Pitt as Achilles. Yes Pitt looks buff, he is muscular, brooding, and angry but also in control but it is all about the look and you know nothing more about Achilles by the end of the movie as you did at the start. It is the same with Diane Kruger as Helen and Orlando Bloom as Paris, these are just thin characters which look good but have no depth.
Thankfully there are some characters with depth and Eric Bana stands out as gets beneath the skin of Hector, establishing him not only as a brave fighter but a patriot and a husband who fights from the heart. And it is the same with Peter O'Toole as Priam as he at least gives his character different shades and delivers the horror and remorse of watching his sons fight Agamemnon's forces.
But the thing is that "Troy" feels like whilst it wants to be epic it only wants to look epic and that means focussing on various set pieces. And as such there is no denying that Wolfgang Petersen has again made a movie which visually is impressive. The scale of various shots as you see the armies line up against each other and then do battle is impressive. And watching Achilles balletically wield a sword and shield as he becomes a one man killing machine is just as impressive especially when he is dealing with countless sword wielding soldiers at the same time. But it still is just pretty on the surface and there is no depth to it and that is what it is lacking.
What this all boils down to is that "Troy" whilst visually impressive on the surface has very little depth to it. And whilst it certainly tries to be an epic it doesn't succeed because for me an epic is more than just pretty looking stars and big set pieces.