Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Collin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins
MPAA Rating: (for violence and some sexuality/nudity)
Running Time: 2:53
Release Date: 11/24/04
Review by Mark Dujsik
Oliver Stone's Alexander is a colossal blunder, a movie I would dismiss flippantly—if not for the fact that I'm above such things—as stupendously boring. Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world of his time, but the movie makes you wonder where he found the time, what with all the moments of self-doubt and blubbering—oh, the endless blubbering. Stone clearly wants to show us the human side of a legend, but the screenplay (written by Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis) takes such a shorthanded approach that it comes across as overly bloated melodrama of the least human degree. The movie tells us everything it wants to get across about Alexander and in very, very rare instances actually shows us. Full of expository dialogue, the script is perhaps the most fatal element of the movie, but Stone's occasional directorial tricks certainly don't help matters. And then there's the acting, which gets the material right, but when the material is as overblown as this, the acting follows. In fact, I'm not sure if Alexander gets anything right except in small moments that pass quickly and are quickly forgotten in its unnecessarily long, almost three-hour running time.
The movie starts off with Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy, a former soldier in Alexander's army now old and telling lots of stories, relating his perspective on his former king. After rattling on for a few more minutes than necessary (the fact that his home is wall-to-wall full of scrolls becomes an pretty funny and probably unintentional gag), we finally get to the story of young Alexander (Connor Paolo) as he wrestles his fellow Macedonians, an untamable horse, and his mother Olympias' (Angelina Jolie) over attentiveness and snake fetish. Eight years later, Alexander has grown up and looks like Colin Farrell with bleach-blonde hair. His mother still meddles, and his father Philip (Val Kilmer), the king of Macedonia, is about to marry a younger wife and produce a more legitimate heir (the rumor is that Alexander's father is Zeus). After calling out his drunken father's errors in diplomacy, the king banishes his son. Eight years further down the road, Ptolemy tells us, Philip has been murdered, Alexander has become king, and he has invaded Persia.
One would imagine that these events would be important, but the script passes over them for now only to inexplicably return to Philip's murder much later for no real dramatic reason except that at some point someone must have realized it was an important event. The omission leads us immediately into the first of a whopping two battle sequences, as Alexander attempts to route off the Persian king in one fell swoop. Despite a scene that shows the planning of the battle and amusing title cards informing us we're observing the Macedonian left or center, the battle itself is quite unintelligible. Also perplexing is Stone's decision to replace parts of Alexander's pre-combat speech with lion roars; the symbolism is just a bit too pat to bear any significance. As the armies collide, computer-generated blood spouts and the camera shakes, leaving any sense of strategy in the dust. Of course, Alexander sits on the battlefield afterwards and sobs as he witnesses the results. It's an odd moment, especially considering the fact that later his somewhat lover Hephaistion (Jared Leto) criticizes him for loving war too much.
That example is one of many instances of the script's major flaw. Most of the characters surrounding Alexander serve the purpose of a Greek chorus, expounding expository dialogue for events we never see and waxing philosophical on a character we never get to know. The parallel to Greek tragedy is inescapable, as the stories of tragic figures like Oedipus and Medea are hinted at to relate to Alexander's, but the end result approaches nowhere near any level of catharsis. The dialogue itself is a hyper-stylized cacophony. Some lines sound excessively modern while others sound like someone mixed up those Shakespearean phrase refrigerator magnets and pulled them randomly out of a hat. The actors say these lines with a little too much determination, and the casting leads to a fun game of matching the ancient culture to the modern dialect that represents them. For your amusement: the Macedonians are Irish, the Greeks are British, Angelina Jolie sounds Transylvanian, and Rosario Dawson (who plays Alexander's eventual Persian first wife Roxane) comes from places unknown.Several years ago, Stone made a great film about another controversial political and historical figure named Richard Nixon, and that film managed to humanize its subject while still following the tragic flaws that led to his inevitable downfall. Here, Stone has similar elements at his disposal and a built-in history of classical tragedies accompanying his story, but he's ultimately flummoxed by it. Alexander does not illuminate its subject, and his story ends up dismally executed and, yes, extremely boring.
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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