—About this Film
Troy is one of several sweeping, historical epics that probably went into pre-production the moment Gladiator’s first weekend box office receipts came in. Other upcoming releases in this genre include King Arthur, Oliver Stone’s Alexander (based on the life of Alexander the Great), and Hannibal the Conqueror (with Vin Diesel in the lead role). Like the spate of World War II movies that Saving Private Ryan kicked off a few years ago, this group of films will likely include one or two shining specimens of cinematic excellence (such as Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line) and a number of wannabes and “also rans.” Unfortunately for Brad Pitt and co., Troy gets things off to a rough start. Even though the theme of Troy is the importance of doing something that will be remembered for eternity, I doubt if this movie will be remembered much longer than the time it takes to end its theatrical run and begin its release on DVD.
The main problem with Troy is exactly what made Gladiator work: casting. I suspect that if several of the relatively unknown actors who fill out the minor roles in Troy switched places with the A-listers who were supposed to carry this film, Troy would have had far more emotional depth than it has. That’s because in virtually every instance, the lesser-known actors upstage their better-paid peers, conveying an emotional intensity that goes far beyond anything the Hollywood hunks have to offer. Perhaps the only A-lister I wouldn’t replace is Eric Bana (Hector). But even he is no Russell Crowe.
The person who needed to match Crowe’s intensity and charisma—Brad Pitt (Achilles)—is a particularly weak point. Regrettably, he’s also the star. There’s an old saying that you can only lead others as far as you’ve gone yourself. As I watched Pitt struggle to express feelings of anger and grief, I wondered if he had ever really felt such things before, because most of what came across was either confusion or a ramped up parody of those emotions. He didn’t really lead me anywhere. Fortunately, he doesn’t have too many lines or long speeches in this film, so his effect on the overall story is minimized. But that doesn’t cover up for the gaping hole left by his character. This film desperately needs a hero with whom we can identify and root for. Eric Bana and Sean Bean (Odysseus) make a valiant effort to compensate for Pitt’s lack, but even though both actors deliver fine performances, two minor heroes does not a movie make.
Visually speaking, Troy leaves nothing to be desired. The time period is recreated beautifully through stunning visual effects, realistic sets, and detailed costumes. With a budget of $176 million, Troy is a film that should look good, and it does. But audiences today are way beyond being “wowed” by such things. We’ve come to expect them as accoutrements to a good story, not a replacement for it. While I don’t think director Wolfgang Petersen is trying to pass off a sow’s ear as a silk purse here, there’s something about this overall production that rings hollow.
Perhaps that’s because there is so little to cheer for in this film. We have Paris (Orlando Bloom), a selfish young prince who allows his lust (sorry, I mean love) to carry his kingdom into war; Achilles, who is little more than a killing machine; Agamemnon (Brian Cox), a caricature of a petty dictator; Helen (Diane Kruger), who makes a couple attempts at heroism but backs out at the first opportunity; and Priam (Peter O’Toole), a doddering old king who has taken to heeding his soothsayer’s omens instead of his son Hector’s practical advice. We don’t really care about any of these people, because all of them are motivated by greed, lust, a desire for fame, and a half dozen other petty concerns. We go to movies to watch heroes rise above such things, not indulge them. We’re looking for hope, not yet another reminder about the perpetual state of war and conflict humankind has been in since time immemorial.
But perhaps that is the real power of this film—as a cautionary tale about where we will end up if we continue to allow our selfish desires to rule our actions. If you listen closely, you will find numerous lines that convey a not-so-subtle anti-war agenda lurking beneath this story, which happens to be about one of the most fabled battles of all time. “Imagine a king who fights his own battles,” Achilles says sardonically to Agamemnon right before heading off to war. “War is young men dying and old men talking,” he says later on, and, “Don’t waste your life following some fool’s orders.” Why all of this anti-war talk? Probably because the characters, particularly Achilles, realize they are nothing more than pawns in a game played by kings. War is just personal desires magnified to a national and international level. The best a pawn can hope for in such a game is a valiant death, one that will be remembered for all eternity. But it is a pitiful hope, really, because the one who achieves such a goal won’t be around to benefit from their notoriety. In the end, all that will be satisfied is the individual’s vanity, and then only for a moment. It reminds me of a line Christ once spoke, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
During the opening shots of this film, Odysseus says all men are haunted by the vastness of eternity and their seeming insignificance in the face of it. As this film demonstrates, many great and terrible things have been done to overcome this fear. But in the end, it all comes down to a choice: Whom will we serve: God or self? That and only that will determine our standing in eternity. As the Apostle Paul says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). The choice is ours.
—About this Film