Any director about to make one of mankind’s oldest stories into a full-blown movie epic might wonder about his own sanity. But Director Wolfgang Petersen had no such qualms. Instead, he relished the task of bringing to life a film inspired by Homer’s The lliad.
“There is an old saying that war brings out the worst and best in human beings,” said Petersen. “The focus of our story is the timeless human aspect of the victories and defeats that Homer recorded.”
Once screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour) honed his story down to a respectable two hours and 25 minutes (the part over two hours could have been cut), proper casting was imperative. Brad Pitt was the perfect choice to play the revered Achilles. A mighty warrior beholding to no king, Achilles is still a highly desirable ally, even by King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) who realizes that Achilles holds only contempt for him.
When the wife of Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) is stolen by Troy’s Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) and taken to his walled palace off the seashore, the King asks Achilles to journey with his men to Troy to avenge Menelaus’s honor. Achilles accepts, but not because he wants to help Agamemnon or get in the middle of a fight over a woman, even the beautiful Helen (Diane Kruger). Achilles has his own ego to brush. A quiet, brooding man, he is rumored to have eternal life through his mother, Thetis (Julie Christie), as she is believed to be a God. When Thetis attempts to keep her son at home, her talk of his future offspring makes him realize the only legacy he can leave is his name and the story of the Great Achilles.
There’s no denying that Brad Pitt is a Hollywood pretty boy, but he has also exhibited incredible and diverse acting skills in films such as Seven, Twelve Monkeys and Fight Club. Working out for more than a year to take on the chiseled body of a warrior, Pitt endows his character with a keen sense of drama, yet easily draws collective sighs when his passion to save a damsel in distress takes precedence over all else. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitt get an Oscar nod for this performance.
Troy’s King Priam (Peter O’Toole) is not happy to send his youngest son Paris into battle with Achilles, but to do less would bring dishonor and kill his spirit. While Bloom has little room here to display his acting talents, Eric Bana, playing his older brother, does a tremendous job. Also on the extremely buff side, Hector (Bana) tackles duels with Achilles with the intent to win, keeps a solid eye on his father and their people, and never for a moment withholds his protection or affection from his wife (Saffron Burrows). Bana and Pitt worked for months to choreograph their fight sequences, and stuntmen were used only in rehearsals.
Watching the legendary Peter O’Toole, one of the century’s finest actors, is a highlight of this entertaining epic. Even Brad Pitt was speechless after one of their scenes together. “Brad was sitting there after the scene was done and was almost in a state of shock,” said Petersen.
Pitt thought the scene inside a tent where he and O’Toole readied to bargain for burial rites, was one of the greatest scenes he had ever read. “To this day it’s certainly a highlight of why we do what we do,” Pitt said. “It was fantastic.”
Petersen puts his best foot forward in creating the look of an epic. The amazing costumes designed by Bob Ringwood make the incredible set designs by Nigel Phelps appear more authentic; the battle scenes are carefully staged, with a minimum of blood and war violence; and the benefit of special effects allows exploration of the film’s vast spectacle, yet Petersen never lets the production stray from its story.
The magnificent Trojan Horse, known and philosophized about for centuries, is only one of the many elements of the film so miraculously captured by cinematographer Roger Pratt.
Troy definitely must be seen on the big screen to appreciate its full impact.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “R” for graphic violence and some sexuality/nudity.)