Hell in a Handbasket: Troy Edition
I got kind of nostalgic for the early aughts, so I went looking for movies to watch again. I stumbled over Troy on Netflix, a 2004 period piece written by David Benioff and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Based on Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, it’s a story of honor and retribution when one dude’s wife leaves him for a younger, sexier dish in Ancient Greece. Battle ensues. Epic warriors have tantrums and die. Back when this first came out, I got dragged to it by a friend, bless her, who was infatuated with Orlando Bloom. I sat through almost three hours of this film for her, because it meant that much to share it with another person for her. When I need a new kidney, I know where I’m going. I sat in the theatre seething. As it’s been 14 years, I decided to give it another go. Maybe, perhaps, I was being too gruff and grumpy. Maybe I was being too harsh toward adapted content. Maybe I needed some space. Nope. No dice. My largest problem is that I have this pesky thing called standards. We’re going to hell, and we’re firmly strapped into this handbasket. How does this film go wrong? Let me count the ways….
Long shots with literally NOTHING going on
Exhibit A: the introduction. A map is displayed on the screen. We see Greece. We see Troy. We hear mournful, ancient singing. We get fucking nothing. No one circles any locations. No one voices over. We just get a map. What the actual hell, Wolfgang?! Is Sparta fighting with Thebes? It’s a good thing I read the fucking epic poem or else I’d be completely lost.
Every Greek has an English accent. Except Achilles.
For a film about Greeks, everyone sounds pretty fucking English. Except Brad Pitt. Making it pretty obvious that he was cast to be eye candy rather than consistent with the tone and presentation of the film. It winds up being a huge distraction. Nevermind that there’s hints of Scottish in Brendan Gleeson’s accent – it’s the downright “I’m American and I don’t give a shit” tone of Pitt. It’s like even trying wasn’t written into his contract.
A whole lotta mullet
Ancient Greeks apparently liked business in the front and a party in the back. What the hell is going on with Sean Bean’s head, goddammit?! And Eric Bana?! To a lesser extent, Pitt is sporting this look. And Gleeson. And Brian Cox. Even Peter O’Toole. They gave Peter O’Toole a mullet. No one gives Lawrence of Arabia a mullet. Nobody.
Liberties taken with the whole Paris backstory
Okay, so Paris’s backstory was completely messed up. When he was born, he was sent out to die based on a prophecy that said he’d be the downfall of Troy. The shepherd of his father was impressed that the baby survived nine days in the wild by himself (thanks to a lactating bear – Greek mythology is a fucked up thing, people), so he brought baby Paris home to raise himself. For the record, I would watch the hell out of that movie – it’s like The Revenant for babies. So yeah, when Hector (Eric Bana) goes on about growing up with his brother… that’s not entirely accurate. Plus, Paris judged a divine beauty contest and was promised the most beautiful woman in the world, who happened to be Helen, who happened to be already married. There’s no mention of that – in the movie, she’s a bored, much-younger housewife who married a dominant, older, unattractive man and got a case of trolling for strange.
For that matter, what the hell happened to Helen’s kids?!
Helen had at least one kid with Menelaus: a girl named Hermione, who was 9 when her mother left. She also had three little boys in various texts. Helen was approximately 26 years old and had four children already. They magically disappeared. I suppose I should be grateful that they didn’t age like soap opera children: aging from 5 to 17 in six months while mom stayed the same age.
Oh we need to talk about this. In the source material, Briseis’s husband and parents are killed during the invasion, and she’s captured and given to Achilles as a spoil of war. During that time, she bonds with her captor, and is promised that she’ll be made a respectable wife once she’s back in Phthia. In this film, she’s a virginal disciple of Apollo who falls for the dashing Achilles and allows herself to be seduced by the hot warrior type. Both media treat this woman the same way: they never fully acknowledge that she’s a fucking sex slave. There’s no “mistress” or “fiancée” label that can make it seem like she had free will in this scenario. She was captured. She was not coming to Achilles of her own accord. She could be traded as her captors saw fit. Briseis couldn’t have a headache or say no when her man wanted sex. She was a slave. She had no rights. She developed a bond with the man who owned her, which means she was functioning under a type of Stockholm Syndrome. This is gross and yet it’s portrayed as some sort of sexiness here. There’s no honor in telling a woman you fucking own her. None.
Um, Patroclus wasn’t Achilles’s cousin
Patroclus was older and seen in a mentor role in Homer’s tome. It’s also widely believed that he was sleeping with Achilles, as that was Greek custom back then: 1.) it was thought that if it looked good, you hit it regardless of gender (so long as you were subtle), and 2.) if you were sleeping with your fellow army members, you’d be more passionate about defending them in battle. So to cast baby Garrett Hedlund as the squeaky teenage cousin… ew. That’s so squicky. He’s a boy, dude. Wait until both balls drop. Although, in Ancient Greek culture, that was doable. But still.
IT’S NOT PRONOUNCED THAT WAY
This one pissed me off 14 years ago, and it pisses me off now: Menelaus. It’s pronounced “Men-eh-loss”. Not “Men-ah-louse.” It sounded like Orlando was trying to name a new subspecies of bug you pick up at a dodgy hotel that doesn’t regularly wash its sheets. It’s like the bad play I saw where the lead actress pronounced Waiting for Godot as Waiting for Go Dough. No one wins there. Especially not my TMJ. I think I ground my back molars into a fine powder.
“Their husbands died because I’m here.”
In less than ten words, the entire plot. Thanks, Helen.
Toxic male hissy fit realness
This is just precious. Pretty woman is forced to marry much older, wealthy, successful man. Pretty woman leaves aged husband the moment an attractive, younger man comes onto the scene. Aged husband then makes good on a promise from his best bros to go show that snot-nosed punk who stole his girl who’s boss. A grown ass man literally wages a war that claims the lives and enslavement of countless others because his wife said, “I want to hop on that hot young piece. Deuces.” On paper, this is incredibly douchey. I’m really surprised that Gleeson wasn’t stuck uttering, “If I can’t have her, no one can!” Dude, she picked someone else. Let it go. Don’t go chasing after your trophy wife killing people because you got dumped. Take up pottery like a normal man approaching middle age and meet a nice hippy. The fact that this was written almost 3000 years ago just goes to show you that shit was messed up back then too. The hissy fits of wounded pride: it’s timeless.
Who would win?
Call me crazy, but Brendan Gleeson was not exactly in top physical form when this movie was made. Not that there’s anything wrong with his body type, but you’ll see where I’m going in a minute. He was 49 when this film came out, and he wasn’t exactly ripped. To pit him against a man in his 20s who works out… it doesn’t seem like he’d win that duel. Yes, I know, in Ancient Greece, men were expected to be in top physical form at any age, but he’s simply not. Nothing against you, Brendan – we just calls it as we sees it. And we’ve seen what Orlando can do with swiftness in battle scenes (thanks Lord of the Rings). So this just leaves me thinking that ol’ Bloomers had a fighting chance there that defied the logic being presented.
Um, Menelaus didn’t die in the war
I know it builds far more dramatic tension with the whole Paris/Hector showdown, but he lives. And Helen goes back home with him; in The Odyssey, the two are seen interacting with one another. Menelaus has forgiven his wife for abandoning her family, and Helen openly told stories about her time in Troy. Menelaus didn’t get stabbed to death by Hector. His brother Agamemnon wasn’t looking for a way to stick it to Troy in the name of his brother. I’m all for adapting something and changing some details, but this felt so far off the mark from a well-known piece of literature. That’s like adding scenes where Frankenstein gets a happy ending.
JUST MAKE IT STOP
This movie is two hours and 42 minutes long. When a film that long is a compelling story, that’s not a big deal, and in fact, you may not want it to end or realize that any time has elapsed (exhibit A: The Shawshank Redemption). When it’s tons of long shots and lingering facial acting (if you can legally call it that), it’s torture. Wild guess which column this one falls into. Did you know that the Trojan War lasted for ten years? Petersen certainly went for this feeling. It feels like someone crammed four seasons of a show into three hours and started running out of steam around the one-hour mark.
Whiny Baby, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo
Achilles stamps his feet when things don’t go his way. Everyone lives in fear of his poor reactions, and he’s an egotist to the maximum degree. He’s like the star jock that everyone puts up with because he wins titles: he’s tolerated because he’s skilled. In the epic poem, he’s a bit more fleshed out than this description. Pitt doesn’t do much to give him added depth: he pouts and screams and gazes intently into the distance. For a movie about tough guys, these men just can’t stop throwing tantrums. For muscled, macho men, it’s pretty rich to see them acting like really big babies. They don’t need swords and armor – they need a juice box and a fucking nap.
Seriously, this movie needs to end
There’s still 45 minutes left to go from when the fight between Hector and Achilles starts. I just want it to stop. Please make it stop.
Priam, what the hell?
An aged Peter O’Toole bypassed two armies to sneak down and talk to Achilles, to get him to give up the body of Hector. Achilles had to be bribed with a lot of treasure to do so, and even then, it required intervention by Hermes to help get the body back safely. Achilles was a childish bitch. Um, kings didn’t act like this. They didn’t cut deals. You can argue honor and sentiment, but ancient Greeks were pretty stone-cold in their treatment of the dead. If you died in battle, they might to try retrieve you from the field, but in terms of a king calling pause to wheel and deal with a spoiled man-child, no.
The Trojan horse
For a group of people suffering from Analysis Paralysis, they certainly got a huge ass wooden horse put together in a hurry. With no sound or supplies. Because, you know, there were so many fucking trees on that beach.
BRISEIS DOES NOT KILL AGAMEMNON
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. This is a poor attempt at punishing a rapey dude. Want to know what really happens? His wife’s lover kills him when he gets home, because she was pissed as shit that he sacrificed their daughter to ensure a safe voyage to Troy. He doesn’t die by a knife to the throat from a slave that he was fucking. As poetic as that would be, no. It doesn’t gel with the source material. It also blows the notion of a sequel which, if we’re being totally honest, would have made for one bitching vehicle about a wronged wife clashing with her angry daughter. In fact, I hope that someone makes an Electra movie about the revenge plots of classic Greek literature – could you image the meaty roles we could be dishing out with a film like that?!
Achilles has the worst death speech ever. For a dude that’s dying, he’s pretty sentimental and long-winded. Especially after having taken multiple arrows to the chest. At least they got it right that Paris is the one that shot him (it was Paris! In the courtyard! With the arrow!). And why can’t these heroes ever have really funny last words? Why can’t they say something like, “I think I left the stove on,” or “I’m about my shit myself,” or “I like dem titties”?
Hold on. Paris and Briseis escape and we don’t really see what happens to them. This is ambiguous. It should not be ambiguous. Paris was wounded by someone else and dies in an immense amount of pain (and his other brother marries Helen, but, you know, the movie’s already long enough). Briseis, in typical Stockholm fashion, tends to Achilles’s corpse, then is traded off to the next dude. This is not meant to be uplifting, Wolfgang. There’s no honor here. Part of a Greek tragedy is that the majority of the players die, their social structure goes on, and there’s a heightened sense of depression to wash down the notion of an honor code. Well, congratulations. If you were hoping I’d be depressed at the end of this film, you’ve fulfilled your duty.
14 years later, I still hate this movie. I suspect in 14 years’ time, I will continue to hate it.
I giggled my way through this entire review, revisitation, whatever. And NOT just ’cause I’m high at the moment. It’s genuinely funny stuff. Yeah this movie is donkey DONG-level bad. Nice one, E! I’ll never subject myself to watching it again; I’ll cheerfully opt for waterboarding instead.
You and I both, brother. You and I both.