Troy (2004)

Rated R Our content rating: V-6; L-2; S/N-4.

Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near,
let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”
Joel 3:9-10

Troy

Because it was directed by Wolfgang Petersen (director of Das Boat), this super-expensive epic film is a cut above most such blockbusters. The stars all look great in their armor and short tunics; the sight of the thousand ships heading east is awesome; and so is the spectacle of the thousands of soldiers encamped between the walls of Troy and the sea. Based loosely on Homer’s Iliad, with the Trojan horse bit of Virgil’s The Aeneid thrown in, Troy sets the war amidst the power politics of the time.

The story begins as a legation of Trojans headed by Hector (Eric Bana) is concluding a friendship and trade treaty with Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), king of Sparta. Apparently Hector’s younger brother Paris (Orlando Bloom) could not contain his libido, because the first we see of him and Helen (Diane Kruger) he is telling her that he cannot bear to leave her. Unknown to his brother, Paris sneaks Helen aboard their homebound ship. They are far out to sea before Hector discovers her, too late by then to turn back, because her absence would already have been found out. To his credit Paris is willing to go back and face the wrath of the wronged husband, but Hector will not agree, realizing that the damage has already been done. Their father’s, King Priam (Peter O’Toole), dream of establishing a lasting peace between their nations is no longer viable.

Back in Greece King Menelaus, of course, is enraged at the betrayal of his hospitality, but King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) sees this as a wonderful opportunity to gather the various armies of Greece under his command and crush his only real rival to hegemony over the Aegean. Soon a vast armada of troop-laden ships is on their way to Troy—launched not so much by Helen’s lovely face as by the ambitions of a powerful king. Chief among the warriors is the mighty Achilles (Brad Pitt) who despises Agamemnon because of his ambition for power. The warrior at first refuses to go along because of his antipathy, but then becomes convinced that the war would afford him the greatest opportunity to prove his valor and test his skills. By his attitude and frequent refusals to do Agamemnon’s bidding he shows that his loyalty is not to the coalition but to those whom he leads into battle—his young cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund) and his sturdy Myrmidon soldiers.

The brutality of ancient warfare is on ample display, as well as the cruelty that often follows in the wake of battle. Achilles attacks Trojan soldiers guarding a temple of Apollo, and when he sends them off in defeat, he turns and kills all the priests inside, saving only the beautiful Briseis (Rose Byrne) whom he takes to his tent. He treats her kindly, she eventually becoming his love interest. The dual between fierce Achilles and the noble Hector follows the failure of courage of Paris, who had agreed to go out and fight man-to-man against Menelaus. The burly Greek so overpowers the slight-of-build Trojan prince that Paris, rather than face certain death, crawls back to the Trojan walls, and Hector takes his place, killing Menelaus (not in Homer’s tale). Of course, Hector himself is then killed by Achilles, who drags him behind his chariot. Because Hector had been involved in the death of someone close to him Achilles refuses to turn over the body of his adversary to the grieving Priam. This leads to the most touching scene of the film—King Priam’s midnight visit to the Greek warrior’s tent to plead for the body of his son. Achilles tells him, “You’re a far better king than the one who leads this army.” It is such quiet moments as this, rather than the big, showy battle scenes, that make Troy worthy of your time.