Page to Screen: Troy (2004)

based on The Iliad by Homer

Oh, Troy. Let’s flash back to 2004—I was thirteen and obsessing over representations of queer men in media. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings had also recently wrapped up, leaving the legions of Orlando Bloom fangirls to follow him to his next project. (Technically, his next project was The Calcium Kid, but I’m going to guess that you’ve never heard of it.) And lo, we did—although I was a lot more invested in how Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was going to be portrayed. I remember cackling all the way through. Flash forward to 2011—my college library is full of films I cannot believe we own, Troy among them. Revisiting it… I cackled the whole way through. Again. Oh, nostalgia.

Troy tells the story of the mythical Trojan War. When Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, runs off with the Trojan prince Paris, Menelaus’s land-hungry brother, Agamemnon, uses it as an excuse to invade the supposedly unconquerable Troy, which would give him total control over the Aegean Sea. But Agamemnon’s army follows Achilles, a skilled warrior who doesn’t take orders gladly, and the Trojan prince Hector is a formidable opponent. As the war costs more and more lives, both sides start to look to increasingly desperate measures to gain an upper hand.

You know what I love about all-star casts? I can make endless jokes about Legolas making bad choices and not wanting to make Hector angry, because you won’t like him when he’s angry—it’s almost too easy. (But not enough to make me stop.) Brad Pitt makes for a serious and stubborn Achilles—though his accent tends to wander, Pitt has the sort of charisma a guy like Achilles needs. Orlando Bloom makes for a suitably bewildered and, let’s face it, not so bright Paris; I’m very glad that the film likes to present him as an idiot for what he’s done. Eric Bana’s Hector, apparently the only man of reason in all of Troy, is a thoroughly decent guy, sticking to his code in the face of very unfavorable odds. The Greek kings, played by Brian Cox and Brendan Gleeson, chew scenery with gusto—Cox’s Agamemnon’s first lines are hilariously greedy—and the venerable Peter O’Toole plays King Priam. (To this day, O’Toole considers this his worst film—and that’s saying something, considering Troy isn’t that bad.) Rose Byrne’s Briseis, the captured Trojan princess that Agamemnon and Achilles squabble over, is quite good, clearly at a disadvantage but still doing her best to protect herself. (Also, I’m going to guess that Rose Bryne had the time of her life on this film, seeing how she gets to kiss Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, and Brad Pitt in short order.) Garrett Hedlund is a pretty Patroclus—seriously, that’s about the only impression he made on me—and, while Diane Kruger is an attractive woman, anyone is going to fall short of the legendary beauty of Helen of Troy.

David Benioff’s adaptation of The Iliad omits the involvement of the gods and any mention of magic—oddly enough, I actually enjoyed that angle, since there’s still plausible deniability. While Achilles’ introduction scene includes him reminding a boy gasping over his supposed invulnerability that he still carries a shield, he’s also shot through the ankle (and a lot of his torso) before he goes down for good. Achilles’ lust for glory is expanded into a fatalistic view of the universe, contrasted against Briseis’ undying faith in the gods. Patroclus is presented as Achilles’ cousin and protegee in occasionally strained ways—and, yes, as a thirteen year old, I swooned over Achilles telling Odysseus to back off Patroclus. (This is probably why Achilles is introduced after apparently having a threesome with twins.) But it ultimately works and, like Benioff’s omission of the Greek gods, doesn’t undermine any other meaning you want to bring from the original. Nicely done, Benioff, nicely done.

Troy is enjoyably over-the-top—it’s an EPIC! WAR! FILM! as well as a period piece. There’s plenty of action—the final fight between Hector and Achilles is especially thrilling—and gore, as well as sensuality. (The Orlando Bloom fangirls probably fainted upon seeing this.) The execution certainly gets hammy, and there’s plenty of unintentional hilarity. My favorite moment is Hector slowly bidding everyone in his family goodbye to go face Achilles after killing Patroclus; during his protracted farewell to his father, Achilles is still bellowing “HECTOR!” periodically from outside the city… and it’s implied he does this as long as Hector takes to get out there, which is quite some time. Orlando Bloom is still a fairly green actor here, looking occasionally like a lost puppy—luckily, Bloom has grown as an actor since then, but it’s kind of funny to see him in a role that doesn’t work around it. There’s nods to mythology—Paris hands off the sword of Troy to Aeneas on the flight from the city—and some gorgeous set pieces, even if they aren’t the most historically accurate. There’s also some odd slo-mo shots, which cracked me up every time I saw them, and Odysseus’ big revelation comes after he sees someone carving a little horse. Of course. It’s a pretty solid movie whose bad parts are hilariously bad, which isn’t a bad problem to have at all.

Bottom line: Troy is an enjoyably over-the-top EPIC! PERIOD! WAR! FILM!, with an all-star cast (with varying degrees of success) and some gorgeous scenery. I could do without the random slo-mo shots, though. It’s a solid movie with good parts and hilariously bad parts, which isn’t a bad problem to have at all. Worth a watch.

I rented this DVD from my college library.

9 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Troy (2004)

  1. Ugh. I’m happy for you that you got to enjoy this movie so much! I fell victim to the common (for me at least) problem of movies-from-books: I loved the BOOK so much I couldn’t handle the film diverging from it. I know I should take that aspect as obligatory when changing from one medium to the next (especially in the case of this EPIC poem) but I just… can’t. Especially not with this, one of my all-time faves. For me, a fail. 😦 Although I can, intellectually at least, understand why changes were necessary.

  2. I have heard of The Calcium Kid. For my dear friend was at that time obsessed with Orlando Bloom and knew about all of his projects forever.

    Also, hey, ho, what is happening here, that you did not mention how delightful Sean Bean is as Odysseus? In my memory he is totally the highlight of this film, and I still wish that David Benioff (who is probably, you know, lying around at home, nothing to do, no major epic projects requiring his attention whatsoever :p) would go back and make an Odyssey film and then the whole point of the film would be Sean Bean as Odysseus. Which David Benioff must surely want to do, right?, because surely he (LIKE ME) enjoyed having Sean Bean in his life on a regular basis and wants to continue that trend.

  3. I’VE heard of The Calcium Kid! I’ve even seen it! *high five*

    I saw Troy in the theater when it first came out, but I can’t remember anything about it except that I kept getting distracted by the cast and how weird it was that they were all in a film together. Also OB himself, who acted like he’d graduated from the school of “but I am an adorable puppy how could you be mad at me” acting.

    • Alright! Is it any good?

      Oh, Orlando Bloom. I actually really loved that the script works against him here; sure, he’s adorable and all wibbly, but he’s still making the stupidest decisions over and over again.

      • It’s okay! It’s kind of funny and weird, and OB isn’t too bad in it. He’s definitely got a better script, something that makes him seem funny-adorable instead of stupid-adorable.

  4. Pingback: Page to Screen: Eragon « The Literary Omnivore

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