On the Beach
You’ve heard the story, surely, about how the face that fled an ancient city was so beautiful that a fleet of a thousand ships was launched to go after it? Yup, as we suspected all along, that most beautiful of faces belonged to none other than Orlando Bloom.
But I kid this magnificently entertaining throwback to the sword-and-sandals epics of yesteryear.
Swords being swung around by handsome men in sandals and skirts and little else would have been all I needed to get me into the theater — man, there’s lots of nipples in this flick, and not a one of them is female that I can recall, though I was otherwise distracted. Director Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm) has clearly heard the cry throughout the land for more male nudity in Hollywood films, cuz there’s about as much here as there could be in an R-rated film. Who says women don’t wanna see naked men onscreen? I decree that Eric Bana and Brad Pitt get oiled up and wrestle each other in every Hollywood film from now on.
Again, I kid. There’s no oil involved here. But there could have been if a sufficient degree of imagination had been deployed.
Okay, I don’t mean to harp on veritable surfeit of gorgeous guys — but did I mention Sean Bean is here, too? and Orlando Bloom? did I mention him? — but it’s part of my point that Troy is that rare movie for just about everyone who goes to the movies. Gals who wouldn’t normally go out for this kind of guy stuff — lots of fighting and talking about fighting and planning the next fight and picking the fight after that — can come just for the eye candy. The battle nuts get some awesomely staged battles. History buffs get something that pretends pretty well and with a damn straight face to be historical. Movie geeks get lots of straight lines thrown at them that simply demand geeky rejoinders (i.e.: when Achilles spits out contemptuously that Agamemnon is “not my king,” assume a high-pitched Terry Jones-as-a-woman voice and deploy a mighty, Monty Python and the Holy Grail–esque “I didn’t vote for ‘im!”).
If you could reduce Troy to an equation of movie math, it’d be (Gladiator X “Helm’s Deep”) / Saving Private Ryan + The Princess Bride, what with all the hoards of guys in skirts, some of whom (extras only, of course) are so ugly that they might as well be orcs, swarming a beach in an ancient D Day invasion and then laying siege to an impenetrable fortress manned by Legolas (among others), who stole his stunning beloved from her pig of a monarch husband.
But the best thing is that people who like some meat on the bones of their movies will find lots here to chew on, some powerful relevance, amidst the old-fashioned grandeur, in its indictment of senseless war based on deceit and glory-seeking. Here, Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson: Cold Mountain, Dark Blue), isn’t kidnapped but runs away of her own free will with Paris, prince of Troy (Bloom: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), because who wouldn’t, and yet her decamping is merely the excuse Agamemnon, king of Greece and brother to Menelaus (Brian Cox: The Reckoning, X2: X-Men United), needs to finally launch his long-desired attack on Troy. Old Agie here is basically the Dubya of his day, Helen his WMDs (though of course she does actually exist), and Achilles (Pitt: Sinbad: Legend of the 7 Seas, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) his Haliburton contractor *cough* mercenary. *cough* Not to belabor the metaphor, cuz sweet old Priam, king of Troy (Peter O’Toole: Fairy Tale: A True Story, The Last Emperor), and his sons Paris and Hector (Bana: Hulk, Finding Nemo) ain’t no Hussein boys, but there’s also a fair bit of disdain on both sides of the Trojan walls for fools who “listen” to the gods and think they’re doing the gods’ will. And any movie that disdains the gods is fine by me. Achilles defiles the temple of Apollo and one of Apollo’s priestesses (though she’s quite willing, because who wouldn’t be), and Hector rightly points out that Apollo, protector of Troy, utterly fails to strike Achilles dead with lightning in response. So this job falls to Hector.
It’s in the duel to the death between Hector and Achilles that the sly coolness of the film hit home for me. Here they are, dancing around each other on the sands of Troy in an almost balletic one-on-one — truly, this is freshest take on hand-to-hand combat I’ve seen on film since I don’t remember when — and I don’t know who to root for (which is an issue separate from the fact that you may know who wins because you’ve read Homer). There’s no real bad guys here, except the crazy old rich bastards who send younger, poorer men die for them, and certainly neither Hector nor Achilles qualify. I thought: Moral ambiguity in a Hollywood film? In a summer film? Huh. There’re no real good guys, either, and maybe that’s a bit too much reality for summer.
But no: Troy is so effortless and all-encompassing in its excellence that you kinda have to see it to believe how good it really is. Like, who’da thunk Brad Pitt could pull off the accent (everyone, mysteriously, has one kind of British accent or another)? Who’da thunk Orlando Bloom was this talented? I mean, sure, everyone expects Brian Cox to boom his way through a movie, stealing scenes left and right, but who’da thunk Bloom could sneak in and snatch the movie out from under him, not with that face that could launch a thousand movies but by ensuring his callow Paris never leads the movie into cheese or parody, as could so easily have happened — we may laugh at Paris’s naivete, but we never laugh at the movie itself. Who’da thunk Bloom’d be brave enough to discard the strong, competent body language of the elf in exchange for a cowardly clumsiness?
And who’da thunk that the one salient point about the story of Troy that even illiterates know — the thing with the horse — would be practically an afterthought? That’s some daring on the part of screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour), perhaps the ultimate in defying expectations — Troy couldn’t be less about the Trojan horse if it tried. And it works: works perfectly, in fact. A lot of other filmmakers would have made this all about the scheme of the horse, and instead it ends up being so much about the schemers and what drives them and how recognizable they — the schemers and the motives — are to us today that the details of the scheme are beside the point.
That is exactly what I want out of my movies: to be surprised, to find modern pertinence in a classic tale, and to see beautiful naked men. Who could ask for more?
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