An adaptation of Homer's magnum opus, The Iliad, Troy is the now legendary tale of how the love for a woman can ignite a nation. Paris (Orlando Bloom), a Trojan prince, is met by Helen, Queen of Sparta (Diane Kruger). Paris is enchanted by Helen's unearthly beauty and Helen by Paris. They both decide to covertly steel Helen away from her brute of a husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) so that they can be together in their love for one another. However, Hector (Eric Bana) discovers their scheme and foresees blood and tears will come of this willing kidnap, and that Menelaus will goad Agamemnon (Brian Cox) into a full scale war in order to save face or an excuse to broaden the Greek empire even further. So starts the uneasy path to war, and the siege of Troy.All too often in this kind of movie the staid, upright characterisations and starched dialogue stifles any real character flair. It is therefore a relief that Troy bucks this trend somewhat and has some more colourful parts to its credit. Brad Pitt's Achilles is a refreshing character who would rather kick back and have a few beers (or wines, perhaps?) in the company of a fine woman than something as base as following his kings orders. Now, this would be most people's choice too, but normally in such a movie as this, that would be unthinkable. Sean bean breezes along with a cool surely mask of experience as Odysseus. It looks like Bean has always been a Greek king, so effortless is his portrayal and Agamemnon is played to near perfection by Brian Cox. You can see that Cox is really getting into the part, and presumably having a great time hamming up his performance. It is a shame, then that the Trojan side of the casting, though no less competent, seems to fall back into that old overly formal presentation. Peter O'Toole, while having a very poignant scene with Achilles, is normally so cold and free from expression, he could well have been replaced with a marble statue. Same goes for Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana. As for Diane Kruger's Helen of Troy - that performance was just dire. Yes, she looks nice, and all, but surely there was someone with a bit more spark than her?
One point of note, here, is the role of the Greek gods. There aren't any, in fact Troy goes out of its way to denounce the Gods as non-existent. Now, in the Iliad, the Gods took some pretty direct actions with humanity and I can't help but feel that this omission is a bad thing. The Greek pantheon is a rich tapestry from which a number of elements could have been gleaned. Only Achilles and to a lesser extent his Mother are seen to be any more than mere humans. Without the more mythical aspects of the Iliad, Troy seems to be less engaging, and perhaps less fun.
What I didn't expect was the quality of the set design and direction in general. Before watching the movie I thought that this was a “me-too” cash in on the Lord of the Rings movies and Gladiator. While those movies may have been the catalyst for Troy's funding, Troy maintains a personality of its own, direction having more pace than Gladiator, but more visceral than LOTR. Hats off to the set design, though. The physical sets may be buoyed by CGI, but the portions that count, the bits that are acted against, are all real. Troy looks majestic with a weatherworn, earthed, tactility to its locations, making the likes of the latest Star Wars movies look like the pale parodies they are.