The Battle for Troy
Leonidas Liambey - 19/05/2004
The battle for Troy, the not quite Greek city in Asia Minor, was always going to make an interesting film if you can overlook hammy acting and well-starched togas. Brad Pit, the vacuously violent star of Fight Club, struck me as an ideal actor to play Achilles, the glorious hero of Troy - The Movie. The Iliad, on which the film is based, famously begins with a song to Achilles’ Rage, an immortal anger that hurled ‘down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds,’.
The film itself is full of great battle scenes and enormous armies, although without the gore a director like Mel Gibson would have relished. Nonetheless the battles seem bloody enough. Whilst the poem’s battles are largely told through duals, some of the film’s most effective moments come when the two huge armies charge towards each other and crash like suicidal juggernauts in a feast of carnage as men, armour and horses are ripped apart and thrown into the air. The individual hero, so vital for the original telling, occupies a strange place in this block-buster battle, where the vastness of the forces involved are unconvincingly personalised by occasionally zooming in on one or two fighters’ glorious butchery. Troy, for all its faults, is refreshingly free from the simplistic good versus evil narrative of many war movies and, in the Iliad’s tradition, it manages to minimise easy moralizing about war. The idea that heroes die for glory and that their names will be remembered thousands of years after the battle is reinforced in a couple of scenes in the film (not least the final one), but the arbitrary fate of individual soldiers and civilians is both glorified and shown to be what it is: a senseless consequence of the greed of kings (in this case Agamemnon’s ruthless grab for power). It’s a shame, in a major departure from the Iliad, Agamemnon is murdered before returning to Greece, an act of justice that allows the film a neatness alien to Homer’s poem and suggests, when all is said and done, bad guys don’t profit in the end. The real question however, remains: why is Hollywood once again so interested in the Ancient Greeks? The success of Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator is no doubt part of the answer, but currently there are two big budget productions of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East being made (Oliver Stones’ is due for release in November) as well as the pre-production of a film about the Spartan defence of Thermopiles against Xerxes’ Persians. I can’t help but think that the blond Greeks of these films - who leave their beloved wives behind to fight hordes from the East - somehow mirror and rework the West’s current engagement in the Middle East. Whilst just falling short of jingoistic propaganda for imperialist politics, this cinematic trend sets the frame of reference for the eternal clash of civilisations the West seems so keen on creating. Leonidas Liambey