June 10th, 2004


I forgot to mention earlier that we got out to see “Troy,” the epic film based on Homer’s “Illiad,” which we found very good. The primary deviation from the text of the poem is that no gods are involved, with the possible exception of Achilles’ mother Thetis (who is, however, played by Julie Christie and evidently not immortal, or at least not ageless). This turns out to be not a bad decision, as it permits the story to focus on human interactions rather than the gods’ machinations.

The story opens establishing Achilles (Brad Pitt) as the greatest warrior in Greece and a key part of Agamemnon’s plan to unify the Greek peninsula, although Achilles neither likes nor respects the king, and Agamemnon doesn’t trust him, either.

We then go to Sparta, kingdom of Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, who has received Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) as the ambassadors of Troy and is on the verge of concluding a treaty. All this work comes to naught when Helen (Diane Kruger) abandons her loveless marriage and runs away with Paris. When the elopement is discovered, the noble Hector chooses familial duty over ambassadorial responsibility and proceeds on to Troy instead of turning Helen and Paris over to certain death at the hands of the vengeful Menelaus. In Troy, King Priam (Peter O’Toole) makes the same fateful decision to shelter the couple.

In Greece, Agamemnon is only too happy to rally the troops against his only regional rival, using his brother’s wounded dignity as an excuse, and sends Odysseus (Sean Bean) to recruit Achilles. Achilles, who initially seeks glory over all, agrees to go when told by Thetis that if he goes to Troy he will die, but his name will live forever.

From this point, the narrative parallels the poem, although the ten year siege is compressed into a few weeks. Achilles captures the priestess Briseis, who is claimed from him by Agamemnon, which sends Achilles into a sulk. Hector kills Ajax in the initial battle before the walls, Menelaus when rescuing Paris from his failed duel, and Achilles’ cousin Patroclus, who has pretended to be Achilles in order to hearten the Greeks. Achilles slays Hector in retaliation, then returns his body to Priam and grants a truce, during which time Odysseus formulates the “Trojan Horse” plan in order to save the Greeks from being destroyed by Agamemnon’s determination to force the walls.

All the actors are good to look at, although we would not have launched a thousand ships for the conventionally good-looking Diane Kruger (Helen). Brian Cox as Agamemnon and Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus make good heavies, reminiscent of the mob boss and his loyal enforcer. Bean as Odysseus does a good job of seeming both crafty and untrustworthy. Rose Byrne as Briseis is the most interesting female character, followed by Saffron Burrows as Andromache. Priam's wife hecuba and the unhappy prophetess Cassandra are two characters who didn't make it into the film, which is a pity: we would have like to have seen Maggie Smith playing Hecuba to O'Toole's Priam. Design elements are excellent, with the Greeks looking rather rag-tag and tribal compared with the very unified looking Trojans. Troy also has a very Babylonian aspect in its structures, statuary, and styles which serves to remind you we are in Asia Minor, after all. We enjoyed the performances, which were well done. We were rather puzzled by one reviewer who complained that Pitt didn’t make Achilles very likable, but in fact Achilles of the Illiad is an arrogant jerk, and Pitt actually humanizes his character quite a bit, and the script gives him a more heroic and human death than Homer does, although the manner is largely consistent with the poem.

"Troy" is another epic which shows the influence of the technological leaps made by "Lord of the Rings." Both the fleet of a thousand ships and the armies that battle before the walls were generated using similar software to that used in LotR, with very impressive results.

All in all, an excellent epic film. It won't be useful as a "Cliff's Notes" to the Illiad, but will be more accessible to many while preserving the tragedy. Recommended. (Like the other recent sword-and-bow films, remarkably little on-screen gore--).