Troy (May 13/04)
Comparisons to Gladiator are inevitable, as Troy's epic storyline and expansive visuals unavoidably hearken back to that Ridley Scott Oscar winner. The key difference between the two films lies in their respective screenplays, with Gladiator's few effective moments undermined by a prolonged emphasis on the politics of the time. As a result, the film never became quite as enthralling as it was clearly meant to be, though the performances were admittedly effective.
Troy, on the other hand, though it's about a half hour too long and the battle scenes are virtually incoherent, is content to exist as entertainment; screenwriter David Benioff isn't terribly interested in what made this ancient society tick, thus avoiding the trap that Gladiator fell into (at no point does the movie feel like ages old version of C-SPAN). The story, based on Homer's epic poem, is far too complicated to get into here, but the gist of it involves a war that's sparked by an illicit romance between Paris (Orlando Bloom), the Prince of Troy, and Helen (Diane Kruger), the King of Sparta's wife.
There are many, many more characters thrown into the mix - including the villainous Agamemnon (Brian Cox), the valiant Hector (Eric Bana), and the cocky Achilles (Brad Pitt) - but stripped of its various $200 million adornments, Troy is really just a glorified soap opera. Like Melrose Place or The O.C. before it, Troy assembles a large cast of oddball characters and allows them to double-cross and generally act sleazy towards each other. Cox is seemingly in the Heather Locklear role of the over-the-top villain, and it's a part he plays to perfection. Contrast Cox's performance with another recent larger-than-life baddie - ie Richard Roxburgh's Dracula in Van Helsing - and you've got a good idea just how difficult such a character is to tackle.
While the fight sequences aren't nearly as exciting as they're presumably meant to be (due mostly to director Wolfgang Petersen's penchant for quick cuts and dizzying handheld camera moves), there are several one-on-one battles that are far more thrilling than one might expect. Partly because Petersen tones down his broad tendencies and partly because there's just something exciting about watching two men attack each other with crude weapons. And given that these fights come after a fair portion of the movie has progressed, we're able to root for and against certain characters. This is particularly true of the skirmish between Achilles and Hector, the outcome of which is almost impossible to predict (unless, of course, one is familiar with Homer's tale).
This is not to say that Troy is without its faults; in fact, the film has many. An egregiously overlong running time is the most obvious place to start, as it becomes clear almost immediately that several sequences should've been trimmed or cut entirely. A good example of this is a useless sequence featuring Achilles and his mother (Julie Christie) discussing his violent tendencies, which seems to have been included for the sole purpose of allowing Christie to get in on the action. Likewise, there are far too many scenes wherein characters stand around chatting about honor and fighting, as though we didn't already understand what's at stake for these people. James Horner's oddly intrusive score doesn't add a thing to the proceedings and generally serves only as an unwelcome distraction.
And yet, the movie remains engaging throughout - despite the lulls and superfluous elements - if only for the pleasure of watching some fantastic actors interact with each other, something that's especially true in the case of Peter O'Toole. Playing Priam, the King of Troy, O'Toole proves that he's still got what it takes and more than holds his own opposite up-and-coming stars like Pitt and Bana. He's got one amazing sequence in which he pleads with Achilles for a favor, despite his stature and position of royalty. It's in that scene that O'Toole virtually guarantees himself an Oscar nomination come next year, and unlike other aging stars that have claimed Academy Awards (ie Judy Dench), O'Toole will deserve it.
Troy might not appeal to those with a more thorough knowledge of history - the film barely dwells on what made that society tick - but as an antidote to more serious and "accurate" epics like Gladiator and The Alamo, the movie is certainly a refreshing change of pace.