"Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries?"
The 2004 movie version of the legend of the Trojan War, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen, Brian Cox as Agamemnon and Peter O'Toole as Priam.The film is not technically an adaptation of Homer's Iliad, despite common misconceptions, as it takes material from other sources as well: the movie covers the entire story of the Trojan War, from the abduction of Helen to the Trojan Horse and the Sack of Troy, whereas the Iliad deals only with a single episode of the war, the wrath of Achilles and the deaths of Patroclus and Hector. While the Iliad covered only a few weeks of the war, in the process of adapting ten years of war to the screen, the film deviates from the plot of the Trojan Cycle in terms of who dies when in the Ensemble Cast, and focuses more on Hector (who many see as the Hero Antagonist of the story).Other differences include the downplay of supernatural elements, and Achilles is made into a more honorable (and sometimes womanizing) character instead of a brooding jerkass. While it doesn't try to claim it is "The True Story" of the Trojan War, it is portrayed in a fairly realistic fashion as such that it may very well have happened in a similar way. Achilles is Shrouded in Myth as being demi-god but it is later clarified to not be the case, he is merely an exceptionally powerful human.
Achilles in His Tent: Achilles is extremely pissed off with this version's Agamemnon, refusing to fight until Briseis is returned to him.
Achilles' Heel: As a nod to the myth, though Achilles dies after being shot repeatedly in the chest by arrows, he pulls them all out before he dies...except the very first one, to his heel. It is also this very injury to his heel that slowed him down, allowing Paris to shoot Achilles repeatedly.
Adaptation Distillation: Critics of the film often overlook the fact that it's a mythos with a few basic elements (such as Achilles' death and the location of his weak spot) and variant "sequels" exist that kill off different characters. Most of the events of the movie happen either before the Iliad begins or after it ends, not in the Iliad itself. The gods manipulate the outcome of various battles to keep most of the Greek warriors from dying before the end, and their fate is only politely foreshadowed.
Adaptational Heroism: Paris, of course! The evil-hearted coward of the original mythology has now been replaced by a good-hearted coward.
Adaptational Villainy: While not exactly a Nice Guy in the original poem, the film goes to great lengths to portray Agamemnon as little more than a pure evil, mustache twirling tyrant with no redeeming qualities beyond a genuine love for his brother Menelaus, who is not portrayed in the best light either.
As a movie adaptation of the stories was rather inaccurate, being a "historical interpretation", but one particularly egregious point was that the filmmakers put a llama in the city of Troy. Llamas, of course, being native to the Americas and could not have been in Troy at any time in the past.
The Trojan War takes place in the Bronze Age but there are several weapons in the film that didn't exist until the Iron Age or later.
The first shot goes into the heel, but Achilles gets right back up. It's the five arrows after that that do the trick, but he pulls them out one after another before finally keeling over so when Greek soldiers find him, the only arrow in his body is the one just above his foot.
Annoying Younger Sibling: In this adaptation, both Paris and Patroclus would qualify as this to their older brother and cousin respectively.
Armor Is Useless: Mocked by Achilles. A boy comes to his tent to tell him that Agamemnon is calling for him and starts gushing about how amazing Achilles is, saying "they say you can't be harmed in battle," to which Achilles responds "then I wouldn't be bothering with the shield, would I?"
Berserk Button: The younger cousin of Achilles, Patroclus, is definitely this. After learning of the boy's relation, Hector's facial expression says enough about what his fate will be once Achilles learns of his cousin's death at Hector's hands. He guesses right....
Big Badass Battle Sequence: Several. First is when the Greek army takes the beach of Troy, second is the battle that occurs at the gates of Troy around halfway through the film, and lastly, the fall of Troy at the end of the film could possibly count.
Breakout Character: Hector. While the film is often heavily criticized, one of its selling points is that it diverts from Hector's characterization in the original epic poems where he resorts to stealing, bragging about people he's murdered, and runs from Achilles at their final engagement to the point where the gods themselves have to convince him to fight. In this film, however, he is loyal, level headed, kind, noble, and remarkably down to earth. It is easy to see why everyone is so upset when he dies fighting Achilles.
Broad Strokes: The classic tale by Homer has Achilles and Paris die before the Greeks even penetrate Troy. However since the creators cast Brad Pitt as Achilles, the hero of the film, he doesn't die until the very end. This change allows no fewer than four characters who were supposed to die or be captured to escape.
Technically this is true to the Iliad's portrayal, since the book is all about Achilles and Hector, and The Iliad ends with Hector's death.
Also, many scenes in The Iliad were altered, such as the scene with Achilles chasing Hector around the city walls until Hector decided to stop running and fight Achilles. That scene probably wouldn't have fit the tone.
Several of the characters changed: Agamemnon and Menelaus were not the stock villains they're portrayed as, and escaped the wrath of the gods or women at least until they got home in Agamemnon's case; Hector would have let Paris die, not saved him, because of his sense of honor; Ajax was a civil defensive fighter, not a barbaric berserker.
One of the Ajaxes was a berserker at one point, but it's not the one who shows up in the movie. He did, however, go berserk at one point and slaughter an entire flock of sheep.
Also: Achilles wasn't a misotheist, he honored the Gods; Patroclus was older and wiser than Achilles (Iliad XI, 780-790), not his whiny baby cousin, and the latter was famous for being among the youngest warriors in the war. And Hector actually tried at great lengths to desecrate Patroclus' corpse throughout the battle. (When Patroclus died the fight actually continued, and wasn't suddenly canceled like a football match).
Achilles' soldiers fought tooth and nail to defend Patroclus' body. They were driven off long enough for the body to be looted, but fought their way back to claim the actual corpse.
Amusingly subverted in the actual myths, as the priests actually foretell that the Trojan Horse will be the doom of Troy. Poseidon, being on the side of the Greeks, shuts up the priest and the Trojans swiftly take the horse inside to avoid being next to feel the god's wrath.
Played straight with Hector.
Casting Gag: Sort of. Menelaus is played by Brendan Gleeson, a native of Dublin, Ireland. In the 1956 film Helen Of Troy, Menelaus is played by Niall MacGinnis who is also a native of Dublin, Ireland. Both men are red haired, muscular and were in their forties when they portrayed the Spartan King. Gleeson does seem to bear quite the resemblance to MacGinnis. It seemed Wolfgang Petersen had been inspired by the Robert Wise film more than just a little.
Chekhov's Skill: The movie shows that Paris is hopelessly outmatched in sword and shield combat, but he is an excellent archer.
"I will smash their walls to the ground... if it costs me 40,000 Greeks! Hear Me, Zeus!"
Cox's Agamemnon swans around in the kind of crazy-colored vestments favored by overweight middle-aged fiber artists, leaving half-chewed crumbs of scenery in his wake. At one point a character scolds, "You can't have the whole world, Agamemnon. It's too big — even for you!" But Cox gnaws so relentlessly at everything around him, you're sure he could nibble it down to size in no time. — Stephanie Zacharek, Salon
Subverted with Paris vs. Menelaus, as both Menelaus and Agamemnon make it clear they are going to sack Troy after the duel anyway. Hector is well aware of this and lists it as reason to not have the duel.
Composite Character: Briseis. She's combined with Chryseis, Cassandra, and Clytemnestra. Paris gets Laocoön's lines at the end of the film, and most of the competing Greek heroes such as Diomedes are not seen.
Hector with advice-giver Polydamas, which actually makes Hector even more tragic because while in the book, Hector dies as an indirect result of NOT taking Polydamas' advice, while in the movie he dies because everyone else doesn't take HIS advice.
Which is a little more accurate to the source material in some ways. The Iliad itself only deals with four days near end of the war. For the first 9 years and a bit, the Greeks mostly attacked the surrounding cities that were allied with Troy, and dealing with the unfavorable winds and such.
Continuity Cameo: Paris hands off the sword of Troy to an escaping Aeneas, to the delight of Latin geeks in the audience... though Aeneas is a random teen civilian in the movie instead of a Trojan warrior. For bonus points, Aeneas is also guiding his aged father. His wife is nowhere to be seen, but maybe he already lost her.
Cool Old Guy: Glaucus, second-in command for the Trojan armies.
Costume Porn: The men have kickass armor and often clean up nicely, but the women naturally get pounds of jewelry. Helen's circlet of golden laurel leaves is especially notable.
Averted with Achilles vs. Hector. Hector is clearly outclassed and knows it, but is the only character in the entire film to even come close to wounding Achilles in hand to hand combat. At one point he manages to scratch Achilles' breastplate causing the Greek to look astonished, implying no one had ever managed that before.
Hector (to a degree) is the only one to give sound military advice and point out the flaws in the plans of everyone else. When all of Priam's generals are standing up and saying how the gods favored them, Hector says something along the lines of: "We are really outnumbered, and considering Achilles cut off the statue of Apollo's head and he didn't react, I really don't think the gods are going to fight this one for us."
Odysseus definitely earns it as well (and also gives sound military advice), he's just in the film less than Hector. Sean Bean manages to convey snark without speech, making silly faces at Achilles while people pay homage to Agamemnon.
Odysseus has the most snarky line in the movie: 'The men believe we came here for Menelaus' wife. We won't be needing her any more.'
Achilles is pretty snarky himself in this adaptation. Not as snarky as Odysseus, mind you, but he has his moments.
Death by Adaptation: Agamemnon, who in the original myths ends up going home with Cassandra as his slave, only to be killed by his wife.
Menelaus' death is even more egregious, as all the myths make him survive the war and go back to Sparta with Helen, having a daughter after their return. It's easy to see why they changed it, though.
Ajax, too. In the poem, he actually kills himself out of shame for having slaughtered a flock of sheep (believing it to have been Odysseus, Agamemnon, and other leaders who had agreed to give Odysseys Achilles' armor).
Dirty Coward: Paris. He instigates a war, volunteers to fight as the Champion to end said war quickly, and then runs away after losing the fight. His lust and cowardice ultimately cause his entire city to burn.
Doomed by Canon: The fact that Paris didn't die was what really hurt some fans of Hector. (He didn't even get mortally injured!) Of course, Hector kind of has to die before him....
Achilles: The Gods you speak of — I've met them. I'll tell you a secret: The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal — because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful becausewe're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now — and we shall never be here again.
Grey and Grey Morality: Neither side is particularly virtuous, with Agamemnon simply using Helen to justify the war and Menelaus clearly cared for her only as a trophy wife while Paris was a scrupulous womanizer who knew what the consequences would be for taking Helen. Much of the Trojan royal court and military is dismissive of the war and the fact of people dying just because they believe the Gods will allow them to win. Hector and Odysseus are the only people who come across as noble and respectful at all times, while Achilles is generally portrayed as better than most of the royal Greeks.
Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: It is repeatedly emphasized that Achilles and Patroclus have a close relationship because they are COUSINS. Which they were in the Iliad, too. Whether or not the two were actually lovers in a sexual sense has been controversial for 2,400 years, in a debate that goes back at least as far as Classical Athens.
Regardless of the intent of the source material, the movie's slightly awkward belaboring of the point that they're COUSINS DAMMIT falls squarely under this trope - since the goal seems to be to avert even the possibility that they could be less than 100% heterosexual.
Technically, they were half-cousins.note Through the nymph Aegina, who was Achilles' great-grandmother as well as Patroclus' grandmother; and Patroclus was the older one. It just didn't matter to the Greeks. Achilles' womanizing is also accurate to the original stories, where much of the plot is motivated by Achilles' desire for various women as well as men: he lusted after Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazon women from Ethiopia, in a subplot that shall sadly be missed.
Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Averted, for the most part, then enforced when Achilles fights Hector, as the former knows the latter killed his cousin because said cousin was disguised as Achilles. As they're squaring off, Achilles removes his helmet with, "Now you know who you're fighting."
Diane Kruger is lovely but Helen of Troy was more than a face. She was a woman of considerable wit and charisma as well - at least in the Iliad.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: One of the more well done parts of the film is Achilles as this trope. He is arrogant, often rude, selfish, and impatient, but on the other hand, he genuinely seems to respect women (or at least Briseis), he values honor above all, and he cares about the men who serve alongside him and under his command. The character is actually much more sympathetic than in the source material it takes its inspiration from.
Mercy Kill: Hector vs. Patroclus after he discovers it's not Achilles. This is a bit of Values Dissonance from the Iliad, where Patroclus is older and Hector attempts to steal Achilles' armor!
Mickey Mousing: James Horner's score during the climactic duel; Gabriel Yared's rejected score during the first fight.
Misplaced Wildlife: In the scene where the Trojans first flee from the Greeks into the city, you can see one handling a pair of South American llamas. Fridge Logic sets in when you realize that the film was shot in Malta and Mexico, where llamas are not native, either - meaning that someone actually went deliberately looking for llamas for... some reason.
Movie Superheroes Wear Black: Technically an example since the Epic Hero is the ancestor of the Super Hero. In the myths, Achilles is stated to wear gold armour. Here it is black.
Mythology Gag: Toward the end of the movie, Odysseus realizes that the story of this war will be a story told and retold forever...and he wonders briefly if anyone will ever tell his story. Well...
Nay-Theist: Achilles (film only). See The Fatalist, above.
No Bisexuals: Achilles was Ambiguously Bi in the original story, to the point of Lampshade Hanging; a not-so-uncommon thing with Ancient Greek warriors. The film downplays his relationship with Patroclus and plays up his relationship with Briseis.
Forget that, the entire movie conveniently skirted around any guy/guy text or subtext. I mean, they literally cut it out of the culture (along with many other things...). Really, yes we know Hollywood don't play things historically (or canonically) accurate, but... come on.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: As a review on IMDB put it, "Congratulations Sean Bean, for making me realize Odysseus was actually a native of Sheffield." But no one else in the cast seems to bother, either. Weirdly, it still kind of works - the most jarring voice is that of American Brad Pitt, compared to his mostly British, Scottish, Irish, and Australian co-stars.
It is not like the target audience (and probably not anyone else) actually has the slightest idea what Bronze Age Greeks sounded like, and American actors trying to sound like modern Greeks would have just been absurd.
Achilles having the sole American accent actually works, as it helps mark him an outsider to the other Greeks.
Only Sane Man: Hector on one side, Odysseus on the other. They only meet for about fifteen seconds, but the respect is instant.
Especially Hector, who seems to be the only Trojan with any idea of what real tactics in such a war would be. Any time his fellow Trojans decide to do something stupid because of 'favorable omens', he seems to be fighting the urge to Facepalm.
Paris takes up his brother's mantle later, being the one who advises Priam to just burn the Trojan Horse. Ofcourse...
Pet the Dog: After demonstrating just how much of a Jerk Ass he can be at his worst (by showing the least possible respect to an opponent who fought honorably), Achillles lets King Priam take back Hector's body, give him a proper burial and promises that no Greek will attack Troy for the 12 day funeral rites to be properly performed. He also tells the King that Hector was the best warrior he had ever fought and frees Briseis to him.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: A brief one: after curb-stomping Paris in their one-on-one duel and watching him try to crawl away, Menelaus looks up at the walls of Troy where Helen is watching and shouts, "Is this what you left me for!?"
Reality Ensues: Paris thinks that he can beat Menelaus in a duel because of the love he and Helen share (or something like that). The old but incredibly strong and experienced war veteran beats the shit out of the wimpy spoiled prince.
Sadly Mythtaken: Sort of. While the Greek gods don't appear directly as in the original, the statue of Apollo looks distinctly Mesopotamian.
Probably referencing Greece's relative cultural dependence on Egypt at the time; Troy was a Hittite dependency, and we don't know if it was a "Mycenaean" kingdom or not. You'd think the Greek structures would look more like those of Knossos, though.
The carved statues outside of the Temple of Apollo are Egyptian right down to the pastiche beards: interestingly, they're still done wrong, as their left feet are shown to be forward, signifying divine mortals instead of gods.
Scenery Porn: The city of Troy before the war begins... just beautiful...
Senseless Sacrifice: Averted for that very reason. Helen is so overcome with grief and guilt at how many soldiers of Troy have died, that she attempts to give herself up while the Greeks are still on the beach. Hector points out to her if she did, the Greeks would still sack Troy anyway. So she should go back to Paris.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Achilles. He seems to have found a way to cope with it, but mentions that he sees his victims waiting for him in the Underworld in his dreams.
Wait, does a leather breastplate count as a shirt?
Shout-Out: Now, it's kind of a given that the original Achilles was smitten with glory and fame and all that but Achilles' repeated declarations of immortality and posthumous recognition seemed to have been put there mostly for the savvy viewers' benefit.
There Is Only One Possible Outcome in a Greek story. Even if you have American actors, or conflicting source material, the narrator and characters in each version of the story will agree that their outcome could not have happened any other way, and the characters forsee it. See The Fatalist, above.