Achilles vs. Jason (and the Argonauts): Review of Troy (Petersen, 2004)

By Jess, Carolyn | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Achilles vs. Jason (and the Argonauts): Review of Troy (Petersen, 2004)


Jess, Carolyn, Literature/Film Quarterly


Achilles vs. Jason (and the Argonauts): Review of Troy (Petersen, 2004)

By now Troy's host of deviations from its source text, Homer's Iliad, have been hotly debated among scholars and cinema-goers the world over: for example, the pointed absence of the gods (save a wasted appearance by Julie Christie as Achilles's doomsaying, vaguely goddess-like mother, Thetis), Paris's survival, Achilles's friendship with Odysseus and his relationship to Patroclus, and, of course, Petersen's unabashed condensation of a ten-year war into just over two weeks. The list of this film's deliberate misreadings and inadvertent misinterpretations is enough to take up an entire review. Despite the disclaimer at the end (positing Homer's poem as mere "inspiration"), cinema-goers are versed enough in sequel culture and remake logic to come to terms with the exigencies of adaptation. Hence, it appears to me-at least at first-that this production was made for an audience who has not been near a movie theater since the release of Jason and the Argonauts (Chaffey, 1963). A distinctively bland visual style, poor direction and delivery, terrible casting, and an agonizingly quotational soundtrack, consisting of James Horner highlights as recent as Enemy at the Gates (Annaud, 2001 ), make for a bloated epic that spends two hours drowning to the bottom of a wasted budget only to float to the top by the third act and start flipping its $185 million fins.

The disappointment with the first two acts comes on the "heel" of an exciting trailer and dynamic advertising campaign: images made up almost entirely of the final scenes. Following opening captions superimposed on a "ye olde" (static) map of Greece, a rather bizarre shot of an overlit wasteland with a disproportionate horizon is starkly incongruous as a visual overture to the much-anticipated Brad Pitt epic: Odysseus's (Sean Bean) voice-over begs for a pan over the city of Troy, or the thousand ships, to set the tone. Cast much too soon after his performance as a Southern lech in X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003), Brian Cox as Agamemnon rolls up with his army to acquire more land because, as he puts it, "I like your land." And so follows the subsequent dialogue. Pitt's first appearance, suitably naked, grunting, and accompanied by two female companions, has him deliver the first of pitiful oneliners in a shaky English accent (incomparable to his flawless Irish-gypsy dialect in Snatch [Ritchie, 1999]). Yet, what follows is one of the film's flashes of genius: Achilles's fighting maneuver-leaping to the side of his opponent and stabbing him with the full force of his body weight-wins Agamemnon's battle and establishes the first of the film's impressive use of combat strategy as thematic device, a striking piece of imagery and characterization.

At times the actors seem to struggle with the dialogue and Petersen's direction. Orlando Bloom evokes Paris's boyishness and vigor, yet single-handedly manages to destroy the war-for-love angle upon which the film leans by tackling his love scenes with Helen of Troy (Diane Kruger) as theatrically as possible. If Bloom's overacting isn't enough, the decision to cast Kruger, and not the Kidmans, Zeta-Joneses, Therons, or Winslets of this world, rips the guts out of the film's-and indeed the poem's-concept of the face that launched a thousand ships. Helen is, of course, much more than a pretty face, yet instead of carving a character from Homer's bewitchingly seductive enchantress, Kruger serves us a portion of bitter child-bride. Comprising one-third of the film's female component, Helen loses all narrative purpose after dropping her dress for Paris. Enter Saffron Burrows's twitchy Andromache, Hector's (Eric Bana) wife, who has no purpose throughout the film except to function as the only family member to react to Hector's murder at the hands of Achilles. …

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