Homer's Illiad has inspired movies. Two of these, Giorgio Rivalta's "The Trojan War" in the 1960s and the 1993 "Helen of Troy" were not overtly spectacular. The latest, Warner Brother's "Troy" is spectacle all right, but director Wolfgang Petersen and writer David Benioff seem to have, while drawing on the Greek epic, lost track of a sense of balance.
Orlando Bloom (Paris) and Diane Kruger (Helen) in "Troy"
"Troy" is a Brad Pitt film, a hugely muscled Pitt who plays the invincible Achilles. Often wooden, even when he is making love to a captured Trojan vestal virgin, Pitt indicates a trace of human emotion only once when he breaks down after killing Hector, Prince of Troy. Such is Achilles' arrogance and pride -- or so is made of him by the movie-makers -- that "Troy" appears strangely enamoured of this Greek hero to the point of making the rest of the cast seem like weak-kneed midgets.
Eric Bana is clearly uncomfortable as Hector, whose valour and courage were as superior to those of Achilles. But Hector's humility and humanity were greater than those of Achilles, who fought for himself or, at best, for his cousin and, maybe, the slave lover.
Petersen is awfully unfair to Hector, and Bana invariably turns out looking like a shivering coward rather than the valiant soldier prince that he is supposed to have been.
What is even more regrettable is that "Troy" pays very little attention to either Paris (played by Orlando Bloom) or Helen (Diane Kruger) whose romance provoked the 10-year war between Troy and Sparta/Greece. If their affair lacks the fire that eventually destroyed Troy, Helen's beauty , which launched a thousand ships, is devoid of the spirit and spark that drove her husband, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and his ruthlessly ambitious brother, Agememnon, to cross the Aegean Sea to wage an utterly futile battle which spilt the blood of a generation.
With Pitt at the centre of a 162-minute saga, there is little scope for anybody else, even for Paris, whose idea of coveting another man's wife is not only picturised with very little substance or style, but is also unfortunately treated as a sub-plot. One wonders why the film was not titled, "Achilles".
This man was merely part of a great inherent drama, called the Trojan War, which may have been mostly invented by Homer or poets who lived before him. Although the Illiad begins with the Greeks entering the 10th year of their stalemated siege of Troy, an impregnable walled city near the Dardanelles, on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey, Benioff capsules the whole event into a month-long episode.
Paris whisks away Helen from her husband and Spartan kingdom, starting a war that kills Paris' elder brother, Hector, and their old father, Priam. Peter O'Toole as the aging but stubborn king of Troy, Priam, contributes to the destruction by heeding to a superstitious priest rather than to his wise sons. When Hector tells his father not to attack a retreating Greek army, Priam refuses to listen, and finds himself enduring what "no father has ever undergone": the awful shame of seeing a dead Hector being dragged by Achilles' chariot. Later, when Paris asks Priam to burn down the abandoned wooden horse, which the Greeks pack with their men and leave outside Troy's walls, the king is once again guided by the words of a foolish priest.
Petersen tells this story through violent scenes of blood and gore, a fact that makes it unsuitable for under 18s to watch (though one notices that Chennai's cinema halls hardly seem bothered by such censor certification). Midsection lassitude and no out-of-the-way technological marvels make "Troy" a rather mediocre spin of reels. But, yes, for those fans of Brad Pitt, this work may just about be a rare opportunity to see him bronzed and chiselled as the camera lavishes almost undivided attention on this star.
(This review appeared in The Hindu dated June 25 2004)