In this loose adaptation of Homer's The Iliad, we see that war is a dirty cheat that promises glory to those who do battle but in the end leaves only heartbreak and sorrow amidst the senseless loss of life. Although there is talk in this classic tale about love and honor and immortality, the real driving force behind all the death and destruction is the quest for power.
Wolgang Petersen directs this version of the Trojan War with some huge and nasty battle sequences but he has chosen to put the main accent on the intimate dramas that cause men to plunge into battle. The masses who prefer movies that move at the speed of light will not be pleased with this approach. At the screening we attended, some people laughed during the scenes in when the characters discuss their feelings and the ethical challenges of their predicaments. Speed is king (just consider the current box office success Van Helsing) and that makes this movie passé, a relic from the old days of epic dramas that intermix dialogue with intensely choreographed battle sequences. We happen to favor character over conflagration, but we honestly admit that we are out-of-step with the times. Speed that kills is the flavor of the day.
There are several top-notch performances in this sword-and-sandal movie. Eric Bana is convincing as Prince Hector, the charismatic and level-headed brother of Paris (Orlando Bloom), the impetuous young man who steals Helen (Diane Kruger), Queen of Sparta, from her jealous husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). This incident sets off the war between the Mycenaean King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and Troy, a city that has eluded his capture thanks to its imposing walls. Hector wins our allegiance with the love he demonstrates for his wife (Saffron Burrows) and the patience he demonstrates with his younger brother. He leads his men in battle against Agamemnon's troops in the first clash and wins. But his eventual hand-to-hand combat with Achilles (Brad Pitt), an independent mercenary who fights for Agamemnon, is not even close.
The other strong performance is by Peter O'Toole as Priam, the King of Troy. His vulnerability comes to the fore following the death of his loyal and loving son Hector. He sneaks into the camp of the enemy late at night and begs Achilles, the great and proud warrior, to let him take back the body of his son and give him a proper burial. It is a poignant human moment in this action drama. Its moments of silence give both us and the actors a chance to savor the emotions of a father wanting to do well by his child. This scene is well worth the wait, and it proves that more moments like this one are needed in other epic dramas that consist of nothing more than the clangor of war and the velocities of constant motion.