(Wolfgang Petersen, 2004)
Has ever a major actor been quite so uncomfortable in period or non-American roles as Brad Pitt? Here he just about gets by on an extremely Californian type of sun-kissed buff beauty, but every single time he opens his mouth to speak, this film runs into a big problem; its protagonist - the legendary Achilles - is faintly ridiculous. That is only made more obvious by the fact that his direct opponent and mirror image, Eric Bana as Hector, is a serious, intense, magnetic presence.
Written by David Benioff in what now seems like a shaky dry-run for the sort of believable heroic historical drama he perfected on Game of Thrones, Troy now seems like a commendably old-fashioned sword and sandal epic, filled with lots of talk of honour, politics and the Gods. Only it's never really all that good.
The casting is one problem. Not only is Pitt horrendously miscast, but Diane Kruger , while obviously beautiful, makes a curiously dull Helen, and Orlando Bloom is his wooden, pretty worst as Paris, which robs the relationship meant to drive the entire plot of any interest or emotion. The old British thespians in smaller roles do better; Peter O'Toole and Brian Cox chew scenery (and there's a lot of it to chew on) to good effect as duelling Kings Agamemnon and Priam, Brendan Gleeson is flat-out terrifying as Menelaus, and Sean Bean is so good as a wily, political old Odysseus you find yourself wishing the film was about him instead.
Benioff's script is filled with good ideas. Achilles here is a warrior as rock star, lounging in a tent surrounded by groupies, followed by a cadre of warriors who worship him, but lazy, contemptuous of normal people, with a seeming death wish. That is all undone by Pitt's empty, superficial work, as is his relationship with Brisseus (Rose Byrne), a Priestess who is taken captive.
In contrast, Hector's love for his wife, family and country is simple and believable, which unbalances this narrative precariously (as does the fact that Agamemnon is such an unscrupulous villian, while Priam is just a bit of an earnest fool).
The material that does work is the spectacle, when it has not been spoiled by some shabby cgi. Huge battle scenes are efficiently directed by Petersen, without ever containing anything that is truly special or even memorable. The fighting has obviously been carefully considered, and Achilles moves like a dancer in stark contrast to the heavy armour and forceful strikes favoured by everybody else.
The climax - the arrival of the Wooden horse (nicely designed here) into Troy and all that follows - feels quite rushed, and in any event, the emotional climax has come and gone almost an hour before.
The duel between Achilles and Hector is easily the best thing in the film. So clearly shot and edited it feels like somebody other than Petersen must have been involved, it is visceral and gripping throughout, and the outcome is at least stirring in a way nothing else in this film is.