Director: Wolfgang Peterson
‘BUT THERE ARE NO GODS!!!’ the classical brass exclaims, veins pulsating, threatening to burst through their foreheads. This is the expected reaction you will probably get from mentioning the 2004 Hollywood, blockbuster adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, which chronicles the fates of Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hektor (Eric Bana) and their respective involvements in the assault on the city of Troy by the united Greek forces.
Now, this reaction towards Troy is warranted to degree; in comparison with the actual epic, the movie is riddled with inaccuracy. The chronological order of the Iliad’s 24 books are re-jigged and their events slightly altered in order to present a more palatable Hollywood product. Characters are also altered and re-positioned; Briseis (Rose Byrne) does not utter a word in the Iliad, however, in the movie she plays a significant role with significant dialogue throughout the whole film. Bana’s Hektor is portrayed as tragic, anti-war figure, when in the Iliad, he absolutely LOVES a scrap, driven by glory and bringing honour to his father. Pitt’s Achilles is involved in and engages in far more combat in the film than he actually does in the Iliad, thus the crucial aspect of Achilles’ pure rage that is foregrounded in Book 1 and subsequently unleashed in the latter books is lost in the motion picture. Oh, and let us not forget the fact that ‘THERE ARE NO GODS!!!’. But seriously, the visual absence of the Greek gods, whom of which are crucial in almost every pivotal moment in Homer’s epic whilst being essential to the poem’s essence and themes, stands as the most glaring inaccuracy.
However, with all this being said, vital themes of the poem are still communicated in the film. Pitt’s Achilles still displays this nuanced and introspective Greek hero that we see in the poem, whose tension with Brian Cox’s outstanding Agamemnon certainly foregrounds the ‘might’ vs ‘right’ argument that arises in the epic. The cost, pain and general futility of war is also communicated, with Diane Kruger’s performance as Helen providing on constant, on-screen reminder of war’s worthlessness, particularly to those with minimal agency who are forced to live with the bleak consequences. To put it mildly, if I got given 10p every time Kruger’s Helen so much as smiled, I’d struggle to afford an Isotonic from the local corner shop. ‘BUT THERE ARE NO GODS!!!’ – yes this is true, and they would have helped further accentuate and crystalise the aforementioned themes, however, Peterson did not necessarily fail in communicating said themes, he just did not stick to Homer’s ‘script’.
So if you are looking for a line-by-line depiction of Homer’s Iliad…Troy probably won’t be the best way you could spend 2 hours and 43 minutes of your life (yes, it is THAT long). ‘BUT THERE ARE NO -’ I promise you we get it. And sure, it is a shame, as the gods would have added further dynamism to specific characters and themes, but is it not the essence of Classics to retell mythical tales in an engaging manor? Because for all it’s inaccuracies, Troy is dramatic, engaging and worth a watch.