If Wolfgang Petersen's Troy is about anything other than computerized spectacle or Brad Pitt's bare butt, buffed abs, pumped biceps and steroidized face, maybe it's about religious idiocy. And in a world where people kill each other because they pronounce God's name differently when they pray, where Islamic fundamentalists blow up fellow Muslims because they disagree over the true heir of Muhammad's prophecy, where Pat Robertson thinks he has enough stroke with God to divert hurricanes and where Jerry Falwell blames the September 11 attacks on homosexuals, in such a world intoxicated by noxious religious intolerance, a movie that says fie on religious presumption, isn't all bad.
Adapted by David Benioff from Homer's The Iliad, Troy is the story of the epic war between the ancient Aegean rivals Troy and the league of city states from Greece. The movie seems to suggest that the fighting is over in a matter of weeks, but according to Homer, the war lasted 10 years, the approximate running time of the movie itself. Trouble arises when Paris (an androgynous Orlando Bloom, who appears to be about 15), the second son of Troy's King Priam (Peter O'Toole, looking as if Botox has left him unable to blink) makes off with the world's most beautiful woman, Helen (Diane Kruger, who looks more like sorority Helen of Troy State than a queen), wife of Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), King of Sparta. In Homer, Paris is able to turn Helen's head through the assistance of the goddess Aphrodite. In the movie, he seems to have only Priapus on his side, and we're asked to believe that they are deeply in love. Love, of course, makes you stupid, and there are no stupider characters in this movie than Paris and Helen, who seem unable to stop groping each other even though Helen apparently understands that this love leads directly to disaster. So much for controlling herself. The audience I was with laughed derisively when Paris and Helen talked to each other.
In Homer, the Greek kings, under the command of Menelaus' brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), go to Troy to get Helen back because they had earlier signed a pledge to do just that. The pledge was meant to deter war among the Greeks but ended up being the reason for war with Troy. In the movie, Agamemnon is Saddam Hussein, and Troy is Kuwait. Agamemnon wants to rule the whole of the ancient world. Menelaus, meanwhile, doesn't want reunion; he wants the opportunity to murder Helen. These changes turn The Iliad on its head. Homer sees the Greeks as flawed but ultimately heroic and the Trojans as wrong for harboring the sniveling Paris and the love-the-one-you're-with Helen. In the movie, the Greeks, particularly Agamemnon and Menelaus, are vicious brutes, and their chief military force, Achilles (Brad Pitt), is better only because he hates Agamemnon and Menelaus.
The movie Achilles is a killing machine who will come back in the 21st century as the Terminator. Achilles is so terrifying archers won't shoot at him when they're behind walls and he's in an open chariot. (Yeah, right.) Achilles doesn't slay men for country, power or wealth. He just craves being known as the Baddest Badass on the Planet. The movie really can't make its mind up about Achilles. Perhaps we're supposed to admire him because he's melancholy and utters philosophical pronouncements about mortality and the fleeting nature of it all. I know we're supposed to see him as at least partially redeemed by his sudden love for Briseis (Rose Byrne), a Trojan woman he has captured. She falls for Achilles, as best we can tell, because he's played by Brad Pitt. Ultimately, Achilles is dead, but he's a better man for it.
In the end, the only guy to admire in the film is Troy's crown prince Hector (Eric Bana, who needed to pump a lot more iron if anyone was going to give him a chance against Achilles). Hector is a great but merciful warrior, a loyal son, and one of the first to understand the importance of sex before fighting. "Paris will need you tonight," he tells Helen before Paris' one-on-one match against Menelaus. On the battlefield, Hector slays the mighty Ajax (Tyler Mane) in one of several scenes where everybody else stops fighting to form a circle around Hector going mano a mano with a Greek champion, after which it's always Miller Time. These scenes seem drafted by Monty Python.
Given the film's indifference about character development and ambivalence as to moral theme, we are left to admire only its suspicion of religious pronouncement. Hector always gives his father good military advice, and even Paris warns Priam not to take that wooden horse inside the city walls. But Priam always chooses the wisdom of his high priest. And his high priest is always wrong. Take note, George W. Bush. Wary should be the leader who chooses courses because he thinks God is on his side.
- Because he's Brad Pitt! Briseis (Rose Byrne) falls in love with Achilles (Brad Pitt) in Wolfgang Petersen's Homeric epic, Troy.