There is one minor distinction to be made between director Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004) and Homer’s The Iliad from whence this cinematic tale derives. The Iliad was a multifaceted and monumental achievement in the art of storytelling in which ‘the Gods’ share their hand in integral and pivotal elements within the structure and development of the narrative. The film is merely a flashy old time screen spectacle where the Gods take a backseat to more concrete and earthly visceral delights.
In truth, the film has a lot of territory to cover. Homer’s The Iliad is as mesmerizing as it remains epic. The screenplay by David Benioff assumes a twofold responsibility; first – to remain loyal to that text and second - to chart the recorded history of the Trojan Wars while delving into a complex tapestry of mythological characters.
These include the brooding Grecian warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt – good fighter/bad heel); noble prince Hector (Eric Bana), male beauty cum warrior, Paris (Orlando Bloom – lover, not a fighter) and vixen Helen (Diane Kruger…was this the face that launched…? Yes - exactly!). For the most part, Benioff succeeds where other mere mortals might all too easily been prone to embracing predictability to a fault.
Owing to the fact that Brad Pitt is the star of this film, the story opens with King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) conquering yet another principality in his Grecian empire from King Triopas (Julian Glover) at the hand of Achilles, his most valiant warrior. Achilles slays the rather oafish gargoyle on steroids – Boagrius (Nathan Jones) with one fell slash of his sword. However, Achilles despises the master he serves.
Meanwhile, in another part of Greece, Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus (Brenden Gleeson) is having a pair of nobles to supper; Prince Hector and his brother, Prince Paris – sons of the noble Priam (Peter O’Toole); ruler of Troy. Known for his prowess with many ladies, Paris is currently having an affair with Menelaus’ wife, Helen of Sparta.
After the affair is exposed, Priam brokers a tentative peace with Menelaus. But Paris steals Helen aboard Hector’s sailing vessel. Seizing upon Helen’s defection as a 'good enough' excuse to start another war, Agamemnon exploits the opportunity by engaging Menelaus' armies to help conquer Troy for his own purposes. However, Troy is not so easily taken. In fact, it proves virtually impregnable.
Assuming false reason for Agamemnon’s arrival, Paris woefully miscalculates his one-on-one battle with Menelaus. He is saved from certain death by his brother, who slays Menelaus and sets into motion a series of revenge scenarios that will eventually thrust the fate of Troy into mortal chaos. An adversarial animosity forces a bleak showdown between Hector and Achilles; the latter eventually claiming his victory by dragging Hector's bloodied remains behind his horse, back to his camp. Priam, alone and unarmed, approaches the camp by night to plead with Achilles for Hector's proper burial and Achilles - much reformed by the days carnage and his steady growing love for Brisies (Rose Byrne) agrees.
During the mourning period, the Greeks devise a more clever method of entire into Troy - The Trojan Horse. After the rest of the city has retired for the night, the small commune of smuggled in Greeks emerge from the horse to unlock the city's main gate, thereby allowing the Greek army to march in and begin its devastating occupation. In the maelstrom of looting Priam is butchered and Achilles skewered by Paris' skilled archery. Paris and Brisies escape the city through a secret passage and Achilles is given a heroes funeral - set afire on pyres.
In terms of casting – Troy is on fairly solid ground. True, Brad Pitt is a tad too pretty in a grungy sort of ‘I’m too sexy for my breast plate’, but he provides heightened and unexpected emotion complexity to Achilles. O’Toole and Cox are masterful thespians of the old school who lend weight to their supporting parts. Gleeson is almost as good. Perhaps most impressive is Eric Bana in a sustained and nuanced reading of Hector that carries a good deal of emotional weight. The worst of the lot is the rather effeminate and ineffectual Orlando Bloom pretending toughness. Does anyone buy that his Paris would be able to slay Achilles; the ultimate warrior of his generation?
Warner Home Video’s Blu-Ray easily bests its standard 2 disc DVD delivers breathtaking clarity throughout. This is the extended cut of Petersen's film, including nearly 40 minutes of footage not seen in theatres. Colors are exceptionally bold and vibrant. Contrast levels are ideally realized. The overall quality of this image is smooth, while sustaining a crisp characteristic with beautifully rendered fine details evident throughout.
The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite aggressive during the battle sequences. Extras have all been imported from the standard DVD and include an audio commentary, several detailed featurettes on the film’s creation as well as its’ historical/fictional roots. There's also the original theatrical trailer. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)