Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone's Alexander.
I really have to wonder, did Oliver Stone watch the final cut of this film and think that it was good? Or did he -- even if just in the back of his mind -- realize that he had created a truly laughable excuse of a movie? While I've never been a huge fan of Stone's work, I at least respected his artistic intentions. With Alexander however, he seems to have thrown all artistry aside in favor of overly melodramatic dialogue covered by swelling music and unintentionally hilarious scenes of so-called drama.
Colin Farrell plays the young bi-sexual Macedonian King who conquered most of the known world around 325 BC before dying of mysterious causes when he was one month shy of his 33rd birthday. The movie skims through his childhood, showing his mother's (Angelina Jolie) devotion to him and her attempts to indoctrinate him into her religion of worshiping Dionysus. Jolie, who uses an accent known only to her and her dialogue coach, is saddled with long soliloquies in the form of letters dictated to Alexander as he's off on his travels, while wearing snakes entwined about her body, with obvious Freudian overtones.
Alexander's father, King Phillip (Val Kilmer), is a rough, boorish warrior who sees his son as an extension of the wife he hates. He eventually takes another wife who gives him a new son to put on the throne, but when he is murdered, the way is open for Alexander to claim his birthright. Of all the actors, only Kilmer seems to capture the right tone. While Jolie and Farrell strut and spout their speeches as if it were Shakespearian verse, Kilmer hams it up as a King who might not be as sophisticated as his son and wife, but at least knows how to have a good time.
After assuming the throne, Alexander wastes no time in launching an attack against his enemies, the Persians. Like Alexander himself, the movie at last finds its place on the battlefield. As the Greek army clashes with the Persians the movie moves up a notch in an exciting and bloody battle. Sadly however, it is soon over and all of the main characters have survived.
While not on the battlefield Alexander seems to spend most of his time standing in idyllic places, staring into the distance, and making speeches about glory. When he isn't doing this, he's sharing quiet and very chaste hugs with his lover Hephaistion (Jared Leto). For a filmmaker who's never shied away from controversy before, Stone takes no chances with sex scenes between men here. Apart from a few hugs and kisses, the most daring moment between two men is when a naked Alexander slips into bed while staring longingly at his manservant.
As Alexander marches on, continuing his conquests into Asia, we the audience plod with him. Eventually Alexander marries so that he might have an heir, but even the sex scene with a fully nude Rosario Dawson as his bride Roxane does little but induce titters as they make growling animal noises at each other. His choice of bride also displeases his generals since he chose an Asian and not a Macedonian to be his first wife.
Nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes into the movie, Alexander goes into his final battle in India before returning to Babylon, his new capital. Like the first battle scene, this one is well filmed and includes the image shown so often in the previews of Alexander on a horse facing off against a rearing elephant. Considering how well the battle scenes are filmed, I only wish they had made more of them and trimmed about an hour's worth of dialogue.
Alexander is a movie so over the top that it just might be resurrected one day as a camp classic. When a main character dying, accompanied by speechifying and swelling music, elicits belly laughs from an audience, you know something is wrong. In fact, this is a movie so bad that it's almost good. Which is why I wonder, did Oliver Stone know that it was bad, or was he stoned out of his mind into thinking he was making a seriously good movie?
Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone's Alexander.
While I enjoyed Alexander slightly more than Scott, I have to agree that this is certainly one of Oliver Stone's worst movies. Perhaps the subject matter is just too difficult to translate to the modern screen. At any rate Stone appears to be playing it safe and camping things up at the same time.
On the one hand the plot is probably too gay for mainstream audiences. On the other hand it is not gay enough for gay fans. The hero is in love with another man throughout the entire movie, but, as Scott mentioned, the love story between them is shown as next door to platonic. A love affair that is full of high-blown ideals without any physical passion is just plain wrong.
While part of me forgives Stone for the campiness of Alexander (I mean it is a sword and sandal epic after all) if anyone could have possibly brought a modern, realistic touch to the genre it is he. Instead he has all the actors playing to the back row. And Angelina Jolie sounds likes she's channeling Bela Lugosi.
To his credit, Colin Farrell tries to make Alexander the Great into a real human being. Unfortunately the stilted dialogue makes this task nearly impossible.
There are a few impressive battle scenes, but in the final analysis Oliver Stone's trademark editing and scriptwriting are just not suited to the ancient world.
Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone's Alexander.
Was Alexander gay or straight? He claims to love a man but is never shown having sex with one. Was he a good leader or not? He won lots of battles but his men were often mad at him. Did he love his father or hate him? They argued often but he cried when he was murdered. Thus the flaw in this movie is that Stone never makes a solid stand on who he wants his Alexander to be. If he is supposed to be a gay, great leader who hated his father then make him just that. If he was a lousy leader who loved his father but could never love a woman then make him that. Stone is vague on all aspects of Alexander and the end result is one boring mess of a character.
Scott mentioned the many scene's of dialogue. The entire reason Alexander The Great is remembered is because of his actions not his speeches. Yet Stone can't keep this guy from yakking. My favorite line, though, is when Alexander finishes reading a letter from his mother in which she asks him to make her queen, "It's a high ransom she charges for nine months lodging in the womb," he says.
Aristotle (Anthony Hopkins) narrates the story as if it is a documentary. Even in his narrations he implies that the story is an exaggeration of how someone may want to remember Alexander's life and not how it may have actually happened. Stone should have cut Hopkins's entire part and settled on a solid direction to take the character of Alexander.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. (2004)