Troy (15)

No place like Homer

Time was when British character actors were handed out the minor parts in Hollywood blockbusters, but now in Wolfgang Petersen's martial epic Troy they're positively running the show, a new one seeming to pop up in every scene. Here's old favourite Brian Cox as Agamemnon, Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus and Sean Bean as Odysseus; there's Peter O' Toole as the venerable King Priam, and Julie Christie as Thetis, the mother of Achilles. The names become less familiar as the cast list scrolls down, but you'll still probably recognise James Cosmo, and Vincent Regan, and, isn't that Eddie Shoestring behind the beard? Yes, it really is Trevor Eve, playing third warlord from the left. Trust the Brits to be shoulder to shoulder with the Americans when there's a war on.

And we haven't even mentioned Orlando Bloom, hot enough to have his name above the title - no skulking in the ranks for him. Bloom plays Paris, a prince of Troy who makes off with the tiger-eyed beauty queen Helen (Diane Kruger), to the chagrin of her husband Menelaus and to the regret of Paris's brother, Hector (Eric Bana), who knows that her defection will drag them all into war. Sure enough, the thousand ships are launched by command of King Agamemnon, to avenge the honour of his cuckolded brother but in reality to seize Troy and expand his empire across the Aegean sea.

The spearhead of his battle-plan is Achilles, an über-warrior already nursing his own legend as the fiercest thing on two legs. That he is played by Brad Pitt is both good news and bad. Bulked out like a boxer, he has a splendidly athletic fighting style that involves a sprint and a balletic kind of sideways leap, enabling him to plunge his sword into his opponent's undefended flank.

Psychologically, however, he's flat. Achilles requires the brooding volatile menace of a Russell Crowe; sulking in his tent, Pitt blondly pouts and preens, but there's not a lot going on behind those surf-blue eyes, and the voice has the same stilted plumminess he affected in Meet Joe Black. It's also significant that Patroclus, whose death provokes Achilles to murderous revenge, is here styled as his "cousin" instead of friend; heaven forbid we should suspect any gay attachment between these strapping dudes.

The script, by David Benioff, is "inspired" by The Iliad, though it takes a wider historical view of the Trojan War than Homer did. Perhaps wisely, Benioff hasn't tried to emulate the high-flown language of the poem, preferring the gnomic esperanto of Hollywood epic: "That man was born to end lives", and "War is young men dying, and old men talking".

It's unfortunate that none of the leads has quite the tone of voice to speak the lines with any authority, but then we're not watching a Wolfgang Petersen movie for the talk - his forte is spectacle, mounted here on a panoramic scale; the Greek fleet in full sail, the distant advance of serried ranks of soldiers, the funeral pyres burning along a beach at night.

Petersen's best film hitherto was Das Boot, which spent most of its three hours-plus entombed within the clammy confines of a German U-boat. Here he shows a contrasting facility for the majestic sprawl of sea and plain. In recent times only Peter Jackson with his Lord of The Rings trilogy has handled the drama of men against landscape so confidently.

And, also in common with LOTR, the battle sequences are breathtaking, a clangorous mêlée of steel and blood and fire. When Achilles leads his agile Myrmidon soldiers off the ship and on to the beach in front of Troy, one can't help being reminded of the D-Day landings in Saving Private Ryan as flaming arrows pour down on the invaders. Later, when the Greeks launch an assault on Troy, the camera makes an aerial sweep along the clashing battle-lines, from which vantage it looks like one termitary of ants swarming over another: the effect is suddenly disturbing. Up close, the hand-to-hand combat is intensely savage.

The wonderfully choreographed duel between Hector and Achilles has the accelerating tension of a championship bout as both fighters thrust and feint, spears and then blades ringing against shields like a clapper inside a church bell; one senses the sheer exhaustion of fighting under armour, and the palpable fear that a single false move could be your last. Eric Bana hasn't yet translated the danger and brutality of his psychotic jailbird "Chopper" Read to an American movie, but he has a grave virility as Hector and carries the foreknowledge of his doom movingly in his sorrowful gaze.

Petersen generally plays to his strengths, and as long as he concentrates on action, Troy is a hugely absorbing entertainment. It's in the quieter scenes that one feels the movie begin to stumble, mainly because there isn't (aside from Bana) a presence strong enough to carry it.

Pitt hasn't the emotional depth or urgency to convince as Achilles, and his love scenes with the captive maiden Briseis (Rose Byrne) feel underpowered. Just as puny is the supposed ardour that brings Paris and Helen together; Bloom and Kruger look as pretty as perfume models - you can picture the billboard, "Troy" by Calvin Klein - but there isn't enough spark between them to kindle a camp fire, let alone a kingdom-ending conflagration. It says something when one of the stoutest performances comes from the Trojan Horse. I assume that, like the majority of the cast, it originally hails from this country.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test