Troy is a spectacular retelling of Homerís The Iliad, and though it takes some liberties, is actually more faithful to its source material than many Hollywood adaptations. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), Troy features some amazing battle scenes, but remains firmly grounded in human drama. As good the special effects are, they are not the center of the movie.
The story begins with the seduction of Helen of Sparta by Paris, who takes her to Troy. The relationship between Helen and Paris is dealt with briefly, almost in passing. This isnít a romance, and Helenís abandonment of her husband King Menelaus serves simply to set the plot in motion. Menelaus calls on his ally Agamemnon for aid in a war of vengeance. Agamemnon gathers a huge army and fleet, and the expedition sets sail for Troy, including Achilles, the mightiest warrior in Greece.
It is Achilles, played by Brad Pitt, who is at the center of Homerís epic and Petersenís film. Petersen may have taken a risk by building this movie around Achilles instead of the more sympathetic Hector. Hector is fighting to defend his city, his wife, and his child, motivations that a modern day audience can easily understand. Achilles is fighting for glory and undying fame, and is capable of withdrawing from the battle to the detriment and peril of his own side when he feels his honor has been insulted by Agamemnon. Humanizing a character like this isnít easy, but Pitt mostly pulls it off. He is helped by David Benioffís screenplay, which spends some time on the relationship between Achilles and a captured Trojan priestess played by Rose Byrne.
Much of the movie is taken up with battle scenes, and here Petersen pulls out all the stops. Everything is on a larger than life scale. The city, walls, and opposing forces all seem much larger than would have been the case for the actual Trojan War, assuming it ever happened. No matter, this is an epic. The weapons, armor, and tactics used in the battle scenes are quite good, though the observant viewer will catch some anachronisms. Horse cavalry doesnít seem to have figured in Mycenaean warfare, which still relied on chariots. Neither did shield walls such as Achilles and the Myrmidons use during a beach assault. But then Homer wasnít always accurate when it came to period tactics either, so Petersenís inventions donít seem terribly out of line. And they look great up on the screen. Troy has excellent fight choreography as well, and stages some exciting single combats. The final battle between Hector and Achilles is gripping, even if you know how itís going to end.
There are some very strong performances in this movie. Brian Coxís Agamemnon is greedy, swaggering, and rash, yet still manages to be a convincing leader. Sean Bean gives a nicely understated performance as Odysseus. Eric Bana is outstanding as Hector. Peter OíToole, as the Trojan King Priam, has the movieís single best scene, a meeting with Achilles that more any other moment in the movie puts a human face on the cost of war.
Petersenís biggest change from Homerís epic is that the Gods do not intervene on the battlefield. These characters make their own destinies. Petersen may not be making a historical drama, but he isnít making a fantasy either. Whatever historical events underlie the legend of the Trojan War did not occur as depicted here. But perhaps Petersen, who retells a timeless story with care and skill, has earned the right to say that if they didnít, they should have.