On a business trip the other week, I finally got a chance to catch Troy, the 2004 epic featuring Brad Pitt as Achilles. Though the ancient Greek poet Homer is given a co-writer credit, we had heard from advance buzz about the film that screenwriter David Benioff would be taking some liberties in adapting the Iliad to the big screen. In particular, we'd heard that Patroklos (who was Achilles' beloved in the original) would be his "cousin" in the movie, while a romantic line was added between Achilles and Briseus (who in the original was one of two captured trophy maidens, more a conquest than a love interest). Some changes were inevitable in the adaptation, for instance, in the Iliad, the Trojan War lasts nearly a decade, while in the movie it seems to last maybe a few weeks. And there were quite a number of changes made for the sake of the story (the IMDB page has a pretty good list). All of that notwithstanding, I think that the film turned out to be a great story and thematically quite faithful to the original, even while liberally rearranging the specifics. One of Homer's great themes is the contrast between the glory and horror of the war (two sides of the same coin) versus home and family life. The film sets this theme up in the beginning, with a beautiful invented scene between Achilles and his mother the sea nymph Thetis, in which she foretells two possible futures for him -- one going to Troy, dying young and achieving eternal fame, the other staying home and enjoying children and grandchildren over a long life. (Julie Christie is marvelous as Thetis.) Later in the film, there are some family scenes with the Trojan hero Hector with his wife and young baby, torn between wanting to stay with his family versus his duty to go and fight the war in which he's likely to get killed. (Eric Bana gives just the right balance of noble warrior and tender husband and father.) The sentiment is very true to Homer. One scene that was particularly true to Homer, both in theme and detail, was when King Priam sneaks into Achilles' tent to beg for the return of his slain son's body. (Peter O'Toole is brilliant as Priam, and particularly shines in this scene.)
Director Wolfgang Peterson has done a good job of crafting this film as an epic. The scenes of the walled city of Troy, the masses of Greek ships at sea, and the battles were well worthy of big-screen viewing. And the adaptation does well in capturing the sense of great heroes waging the battle amidst the thousands of troops, and the classic sense of honor among them. Amidst the epic, he skilfully develops a number of characters. The romantic tension between Achilles and Briseis is a nice invention, with each coming to love and admire the other's strength of character. Achilles is rightly portrayed as both noble (as we see not only with his treatment of his captive Briseis, but also his concern for his "cousin" and for his men) and also egoistic, a bit of a pouty prima donna. Agamemnon is painted as political and power-craving, and the dynamic between the two is nicely done. Brad Pitt does an outstanding job portraying the moody hero, and the film does not disappoint those who would go just to get a good look at this gorgeous actor in action. (He has seriously worked out for this role, and it shows.) Orlando Bloom plays a naturally impetuous Paris who struggles to become responsible in the end. All in all, some great performances, a visual feast, a good solid story with engaging characters, and a memorable adaptation of a classic work.