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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam