Tuesday, 26 July 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 40 - Troy

#61 - Troy:

And there you have it. Forty days and counting. And what better way to commemorate clocking two fifths of my challenge than revisiting my love for Greek mythology? Despite my childhood love of Greek mythology there is a surprising absence of films about it on my list. I wouldn’t exactly call Percy Jackson or Clash of the Titans worthy of any 100 greatest films list either, and Jason and the Argonauts doesn’t really count since it’s a miniseries. However I was lucky to catch this in the cinema when it came out (unluckily enough I saw it with my family; you think they’d read the Parental Guides before taking their kids to films). I was always familiar with the story of the Trojans but I was never clear on the specifics so let’s get going.

It is Ancient Greece and King Agamemnon of Mycenae has conquered all of the country, unifying it under his own rule. Meanwhile his brother Menelaus is King of Sparta and is welcoming a visit from the Princes Hector and Paris of Troy. Little does Menelaus know that Paris has been bedding his wife Helen every night that week. Helen decides to elope with Paris to Troy, and Menelaus is none too happy about it. Delighted with the excuse to wage war on Troy, Agamemnon rallies armies from all over Greece to lay siege to the city. Among these warriors is the legendary Achilles, with whom Agamemnon has a stormy relationship. And yes, the wooden horse does make an appearance.

Just by looking at the poster you can see the cast is pretty big. Brad Pitt is playing Achilles and, despite a completely bizarre accent, is pretty memorable. Achilles stands out among the other soldiers in that he’s there to be remembered. He’s a little bit Genre Savvy as well, stating that there’s no point in killing Hector since there’s nobody watching and that killing princes doesn’t happen until much later. And aside from his “you sack of wine” line, he is pretty well written. Eric Bana does an alright job as Hector though some of his lines sound forced. Now we have Orlando Bloom as Paris, in a role that probably contributed to the massive hatedom for him. Paris is just a dirty coward who never gets his comeuppance. He challenges Menelaus to a fight and then runs away as soon as he gets socked in the mouth, and kills a major character from a distance. Yeah, and the whole robbing another man’s wife and starting a war thing. It doesn’t help that he’s a major pretty boy. Brian Cox plays Agamemnon and for those familiar with the expression “chewing the scenery”, Cox gobbles the scenery whole, gargles it for a bit and then spits in right back out. He is truly awesomeness personified. Brendan Gleeson, who appears to be in every film ever made, plays Menelaus and gets a surprisingly short amount of screentime but I guess someone had to die early on to affect the plot. My old favourite Sean Bean is playing a good guy this time. He’s actually playing Odysseus, the master mind behind the Trojan Horse with the clever line “I don’t care about the man’s allegiance, I care about his ability to win battles”. And finally rounding up our starring men, Sir Peter O’Toole nearly steals the show as King Priam.

On the female side of the spectrum, we have German cutie Diane Kruger as the lovely Helen. Believe me she is more than worthy of being the face that launched a thousand ships, and she plays a much more sympathetic character than Paris since after the first day of battle, she offers to give herself up. Familiar face Rose Byrne is playing Briseis, a combination of Cassandra and others from the original myth. For those used to Rose doing an American accent, she uses a nice English accent here and sounds as nice on the ears as she does with her American one. She gives a pretty strong performance as well as the woman who “vexes” Achilles and provides some reason to the proceedings. Saffron Burrows plays Hector’s wife Andromache and, despite getting little screen time, gives a solid performance and is especially impressive during the final siege of the city. Veteran actress Julie Christie has a cameo as Thetis, Achilles’s mother, in a scene that takes place entirely in a pool of water. This scene neither confirms nor denies that Thetis is a goddess.

Fans of the original myth might be a little annoyed that some of the bigger fantasy elements are left out of this adaptation, such as the Greek Gods and Cassandra’s prophecies. This adaptation focuses more on a “historical event that inspired the legend” type of story even if it is debatable whether or not the city of Troy actually existed. It doesn’t outright make it a realistic story as Achilles does state he’s seen the Gods and the scene with Thetis doesn’t say whether or not she’s human. It’s more of offering you an implication that yes the fantastic elements are real while sceptics who don’t like that kind of stuff can just take it as a nice bit of storytelling.

The battle scenes are nothing short of impressive, even for a standard Hollywood epic. The first scene of Achilles and his army taking the beach of Troy is especially fun to watch, as is the cool midnight battle on the beach. The Trojans shoot flaming arrows and then roll bales of hay down to catch fire and scare the Greeks. The gripping one-on-one battle between Hector and Achilles was a nice scene as well though I was expecting to see some drunken rednecks in the crowd cheering them on. It was over almost a little too soon, which is a bit shocking. And as for the final siege of Troy, let me just say wow. It is indeed one of the most powerfully done scenes I’ve ever seen done in a film. It was pretty exciting to watch the whole thing unfold.

As any good Hollywood epic will show, strong action scenes aren’t worth much unless you have some quality drama scenes to back them up. My favourite scenes are the ones between Briseis and Achilles particularly the one where Achilles tells her about the Gods and the eventual love scene (whoops was that a spoiler?). Even though I hate Paris’s guts, the scene after the battle between him and Helen is so well written and Diane Kruger is such a sweetheart in it. She acts her ass off in the scene where Helen offers herself back to the Greeks too. But the best dramatic scene would have to be where Priam sneaks into Achilles’s tent. Peter O’Toole does indeed steal the show as I mentioned above. It’s a shame he didn’t enjoy making this film.

For an interesting bit of trivia, co-stars Rose Byrne and Diane Kruger would later be reunited to star in Wicker Park where they were both playing Americans. Anyway moving on, that’s yet another day down and I can’t believe it’s been forty days already. I can’t believe I actually kept to the schedule and posted an entry on time every day. As I’ve said before, it’s great knowing what film I’m watching every night. I guess I’ll be a nervous wreck by the time the challenge is over. Maybe I can extend it to a thousand films? Hmmm. Okay, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and all that.

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