Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA/Malta/United Kingdom, 2004. Warner Bros., Helena Productions, Latina Pictures, Radiant Productions, Plan B Entertainment, Nimar Studios. Screenplay by David Benioff, based on the writings of Homer. Cinematography by Roger Pratt. Produced by Wolfgang Petersen, Diane Kruger, Colin Wilson. Music by James Horner. Production Design by Nigel Phelps. Costume Design by Bob Ringwood. Film Editing by Peter Honess. Cannes Film Festival 2004. Academy Awards 2004.
How to stretch a segment of a Greek epic to three hours of cinematic junk: avoid the dramatic character development that, say, Euripides brought to ancient legends and instead just fill your movie with countless scenes of computer-generated extras flying at each other in battle. In fact, every time you run out of things for your characters to do or say, just switch back to a really loud battle sequence; that way, the audience will be so numb from the repetitive imagery that they won’t notice the time melt away. Then, cast really modern-looking actors, like a California surfer dude for the lead and maybe the guys from Braveheart to play Greek kings, and you’re on to something. Plus, don’t forget to heterosexualize ancient Greece so that narrow audiences don’t get confused by the sight of boys fighting with swords one moment and then lovin’ with them the next. First, however, one should tell the story itself: in a newly-united ancient Greece, Kings Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) have welcomed the princes of Troy, Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom), into their palace and negotiated peace between the two kingdoms. That peace is shattered when swoony Paris decides to take Menelaus’s wife Helen (Diane Kruger) back home to Troy with him, setting off what is one of the most infamous and studied wars in all history. At the center of the storm is brave Achilles (Brad Pitt), the greatest warrior that the ancient world ever knew and a stubborn, conceited, insolent little imp to boot. Agamemnon hates him fiercely, but knows that Achilles’ strength is what he needs to tear down the impenetrable walls of Troy. Then they go to war and basically the whole movie takes place on one beach for about three hours, with liberal use of the aforementioned action sequences used to fill out the plot. Other than some good visual effects and beautifully ornate sets and costumes, this film is a giant, clunking mess, a great bore with absolutely no interesting characters and some rather embarrassing performances: Bana looks confused, Bloom is totally vapid (we loved him in The Lord Of The Rings because Peter Jackson was wise enough to never let him speak) and Pitt couldn’t possibly be more miscast. The three of them seem to be competing to see who can give the most illogical performance, and it doesn’t help that David Benioff’s unimaginative screenplay gives them deadwood dialogue to speak. Achilles has been made the focus of the story (which he really shouldn’t be, the climactic scenes with the Trojan horse don’t even have anything to do with him), but the real thrust is supposed to come from Helen herself, the woman who had such an influence on history that the nation of Greece was actually named after her, as were its people. Apparently unaware of this, Petersen cast a stone-faced German supermodel who, while not in any way a bad actress, has far too little personality for a role that could have been so much more complex. The rest of the operation is basically a retread of Gladiator (they even imitate the music score) and the effects shots of The Lord Of The Rings without half the inspiration of either. Good points? Yes, two words: Peter O’Toole. His scenes as Priam, King of Troy, are the only time that this snoozefest has any grace or gravity, and he does a marvelous job with the emotional conflicts he is given. Other than that, only a cameo by the ever-glowing Julie Christie (as Achilles’ mother) offers any kind of restitution for having had your time stolen away by such airheaded drivel.