The story of the Trojan War as told in Homer’s Iliad seems like it would feature all of the elements needed to make a classic (so to speak) epic film: larger-than-life characters (and gods, even); young lovers risking everything in order to be together; violent clashes of massive armies as well as personal blood fueds; exotic locales eager to provide breathtaking vistas. But Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy takes all of these ingredients for success and manages to cook up nothing more than an overdone goulash of missed opportunities.
Troy’s biggest failings come in the technical areas; Petersen’s no stranger to special-effects flicks, but movies of this scope aren’t the kind of thing he normally does. If the movie’s problems must ultimately be laid at Petersen’s feet, and I believe they do, it’s not for lack of trying on his part. If anything, I think Petersen tried to do too much and found himself in over his head. The whole movie felt much lower-budget than I know it was, more like a Discovery Channel documentary than a Hollywood epic. Troy seems informed by nothing as much as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the sweeping shots over mammoth computer-generated armies don’t work anywhere near as well here (and just gives me that much more respect for what Jackson was able to accomplish).
Based on the poem by Homer
Further, the music felt inappropriate and amateurish, surprising for a James Horner score (and this was the second score the producers commissioned, having ditched the first one for being “too old-fashioned”). Roger Pratt’s cinematography was likewise lacking: I lost count of the number of shots that seemed to have haphazard or thoughtless compositions, as if the camera was just thrown down near the set and kind of pointed vaguely toward the action. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive as it wants the audience to think it does. All of these faults seem to me to all come back around to the same point of origin: a director who’s simply spread too thin.
Petersen assembled a strong cast for Troy but saddled his actors with a weak script, the first hour of which was not only boring but confusing as well–slapping title cards at the beginning of the movie explaining some of the backstory doesn’t mean you can skip out on actual exposition. Most of the actors seem game enough, with the notable exception of Brad Pitt, who seemed bored with his role as Achilles, even during the battle scenes. Pitt had the look of an actor who realizes he’s in something of a bowser of a movie but is contractually required to finish it. Eric Bana proved to be a better, more heroic Hector than I was expecting–Pitt might be playing the guy with the name that’s lasted through the ages (one of the major themes of Troy, and damned if they don’t beat the audience senseless with it), but Hector’s the closest thing this movie has to a real protagonist). The ever-versatile Brian Cox plays Agamemnon with a fervent zeal and Peter O’Toole returns to big-budget Hollywood to give a quietly impassioned performance as King Priam.
Troy tries to humanize the events and people involved with the Trojan War, but most of these characters don’t stand up well to the treatment. The Trojan War is myth (perhaps originally rooted in fact, but now myth nonetheless), yet Petersen has taken all of the myth out of the story and replaced it with a half-hearted attempt at making us care about these people as something other than action figures or names in a history book. He doesn’t give us enough, though; his cast of characters is too large to provide much depth to any of them except, perhaps, for Achilles (who Roger Ebert noted shouldn’t have been humanized in the first place). In the end, Troy fails on both a technical level and a personal one–maybe Petersen should find something a little smaller to work with next time.