I’ll be honest, I watched this film originally because it has Orlando Bloom in it. And I probably only bought the DVD because I found it in a bargain bin at some point. Released a year after Gladiator, it is part of the early 2000s rash of “epic” movies. It’s an adaptation of Homer’s great epic poem The Iliad. Greek mythology is not what I tend to study, so I have not read this (I think part of it is that I can never keep their names straight; same with Roman names. They’re all the bloody same!) It has an all-star cast as well. Brad Pitt stars as Achilles. Brian Cox is Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks and Julian Glover is Triopas, king of Thessaly, an opponent of Agamemnon. Brendan Gleeson is Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, king of Sparta (yes, when I hear Sparta now I think of 300. Yes, I’ve seen the movie; no, we will not be covering it [that was far too much death for me; though it was fun to learn about it a bit as part of A.P. English class]). Diane Kruger (she’ll later be in Copying Beethoven and the National Treasure movies) is the famous Helen. Peter O’Toole is king Priam of Troy; Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom play his sons Hector and Paris, respectively. James Cosmo is back as Glaucus, Julie Christie is Thetis, Achilles’ mother. Oh yes, and that’s Sean Bean as Odysseus! It’s been pointed out that Odysseus stars in the sequel to the Iliad, the Odyssey, so he can’t die in this story. Huzzah for Sean Bean.
The film opens telling us these events took place 3200 years ago, with a scrawl setting the stage; Agamemnon has spent decades warring with the kingdoms of Greece and forcing them into an alliance. His greatest warrior is Achilles, but Achilles disdains Agamemnon and threatens all that the king has built. Sean Bean narrates part of the prologue, that we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries, will strangers wonder how bravely we fought and how fiercely we loved? The idea of being remembered for all time crops up throughout the film.
Achilles is called to defeat Thessaly’s hero in single combat. He does so in one move. He asks the opposing army “Is there no one else?” Meanwhile, Sparta is working on a peace treaty with Troy, tired of fighting all these years. Seems to be going well; until Paris meets up with Menelaus’ wife, Helen. They’ve actually been meeting secretly for several nights and they have fallen in love (apparently, Menelaus is a terrible husband). Now they wish to run away together. And they are dumb enough to do it. I get this is an epic poem and a literary classic, but reading and watching enough royal shows, I have to point out; they knew what they were doing was wrong. There would be terrible consequences and they really don’t want those consequences; and yet they did it anyway! Yes, they loved each other. But a war got started because of it. People died. You couldn’t have left well enough alone, Paris? Hector is a nice older brother and will protect his young brother. Troy welcomes their new princess.
Agamemnon doesn’t care about the slight to his brother’s honor; he’s just happy to start a war with Troy. But, he’ll need Achilles, however much the warrior annoys him. There is one man that Achilles will listen to: Odysseus. His argument to his friend is “this war will never be forgotten, nor the heroes who fight in it.” Even Achilles’ mother says the same; he could stay where he is and have peace and a family, but eventually forgotten. Or he could fight in Troy and win more glory and the world will remember him; but it will be his doom. We all know what Achilles chose. His ship is the first of the fleet to land on Troy. The Greeks take the beach and Achilles attacks Apollo’s temple and has a short encounter with prince Hector. He tells the Trojan prince “go home, tomorrow we will have war.” Another twist is thrown in; Briseis, the niece of the king is a priestess of the temple and is gifted to Achilles. He’s surprisingly gentle with her. But Agamemnon tries to take her for Achilles disobedience. Achilles is ready to defend her, but Briseis declares “I don’t want anyone dying for me.”
Paris challenges Menelaus to single combat to prevent more death. But he loses the duel, saved only by crawling to his brother and Hector killing Menelaus. Agamemnon attacks and Troy proves why they are so hard to defeat. Odysseus finally suggests retreat. He speaks to Achilles after the fight, insisting that the Greeks need him, the soldiers need the morale boost. Achilles rescues Briseis. He once again tries to care for her and she resists at first, holding a knife to his throat. Until he starts kissing her and she drops the knife. I swear, this movie is more about their connection than Helen and Paris. Achilles still insists that he is sailing for home; he will not fight for Agamemnon.
The Trojans attack at night with giant fire balls, which leads into the Trojan army advancing. Achilles joins the fight and faces Hector. Hector cuts his throat and reveals that it is Achilles’ beloved younger cousin. Hector declares enough for one day. Achilles’ second in command delivers the news. The next day, Achilles rides alone to the gates of Troy and demands Hector to face him. Hector, an honorable man, faces Achilles. And behind the scenes trivia reveals that Eric Bana and Brad Pitt did not use stunt doubles for the duel. (They also has a gentleman’s agreement to pay for every accidental hit; $50 for each light blow, $100 for each hard blow. Brad Pitt ended up paying Eric Bana $750; Bana didn’t own anything to Pitt.) It’s a good duel, but really didn’t enrapture me. Achilles defeats Hector, then ties his body to his chariot to drag back to the Greeks. That evening, king Priam comes to Achilles to beg for his son’s body, so he can have an honorable funeral. “Even enemies can show respect.” Achilles relents and allows Troy to have their twelve days of mourning, and lets Briseis return to Troy. Agamemnon is furious.
Odysseus has a plan; his men start building. He makes it look like the Greeks have left and they have left an offering of a large wooden horse. Paris advises his father to burn it. He’s ignored. His father ignored Hector’s advice as well. The Trojans drag the horse into their city and celebrate. At night, Odysseus, Achilles, and others emerge from the horse and set about taking the city down from the inside. They get the gates open to let in the army. Well, Achilles is off running to find Briseis, who is looking for Paris. Helen, Hector’s wife and son, and as many others as they can find escape through an old tunnel that Hector showed his wife (because he was smart and knew what could happen). Paris refuses to leave and passes the sword of Troy to a young man so the Trojans will always have hope and can start over. Paris joins the fight with his bow (which is hilarious, because Orlando Bloom is Legolas).
Agamemnon kills the king and tries to take Briseis back. She stabs him and Achilles finishes the guards. But Paris finds them and misunderstands the situation. He shoots Achilles in the heel, slowing the warrior down. Another four arrows strike him. Achilles manages to tell Briseis, “it’s alright. You gave me peace in a lifetime of war,” and sends her with her cousin Paris. He pulls the arrows out of his chest, but the one in his heel is left, so that is how he’s found. Odysseus burns Achilles and the movie fades out as he says “if they ever tell my story, tell them I walked with giants.”
This movie moves slow at times. And I swear it’s more about Achilles than either of the Trojan princes. Helen is not terribly developed. From a certain point of view, one can easily agree that the whole war is her fault. She was unhappy with her husband and a younger, more handsome man took interest in her and she ran off with him. Though Hector does later stop her from running away, knowing that it won’t stop the war that has already come. We witness more nuances of Achilles’ character. He’s more than just a hardened warrior; he cares for his younger cousin and is downright tender with Briseis (this is after seeing him willingly bed other women). Hector is noble; I prefer him to Achilles. Paris is an idiot, though he tries to make up for it at the end. Priam is a bit of an idiot as well, listening to other advisors over his experienced sons. Agamemnon is an idiot as well, the definition of warmonger.
Overall, I’m underwhelmed by the movie. The duel between Hector and Achilles was alright; but they’ve shown all those moves previously in the movie. I didn’t connect with the characters. No, the thought I had running through my head after I heard Sean Bean at the beginning was “does he live?” I put Pompeii on again afterwards. I watched it for the same reason that I did Troy and yet I became more invested in it.
What are your favorite historical periods?
Next Time: Kingdom of Heaven