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Alexander (2004)

R · 173 minutes

Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis

 · Colin Farrell
 · Angelina Jolie
 · Val Kilmer
 · Rosario Dawson
 · Anthony Hopkins

Review by Sparkster (Tom Hargrove)

The old saying goes “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” If ever there was a film that proved great talent can go very wrong, Alexander is the textbook example. Oliver Stone aims to make the next Lawrence of Arabia, but despite his accomplished cast and boldest efforts, he could not elevate the legend of Alexander the Great to anywhere near a decent epic. The respectable technical aspects and solid performances in this movie cannot outweigh a film that is cold, unfocused, and shockingly tedious.

The greatest legend was real in fact. By 32, Alexander the Great had conquered over 90% of the known world. I only hope I have no wrinkles or gray hair and a steady career by 32, but I digress. Here, we are retold the events of Alexander's life by a scholar lecturing to his students. We start out with Alexander as a child, being taught to handle snakes by his mother and being taught to wrestler by his father, and history by the narrator. From the beginning, he is molded to achieve greatness. His mother tells him the world is his for the taking, and that’s exactly what he sets out to do – conquer the world at whatever cost.




It is a sad disappointment when you consider what a strong cast Oliver Stone has to work with. The long list of accomplished talents includes Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, and Colin Farrell. So many people were determined that Farrell could not play in a period piece, and he is actually one of the finer points of the movie. Alexander, one of the greatest and strongest legends, is written as a weepy man. Farrell is able to bring a powerful, masculine presence to this miscalculation and makes up for what the screenplay lacks. Angelina Jolie is equally capable as Olympius with a well-controlled performance, and a shady, paranoid execution. She is near perfectly cast in a role that allows her to use her sensual, eccentric persona. I say near perfect because of the fact that her and Farrell are only one year apart in age. It does not help when the makeup is used to glorify her vixen appearance rather than age her. I would dare say they both give oscar-calibre performances for what they are given to work with, but of course, no matter how good you are in a movie with awful buzz, you are not going to get any rewards. As the late Rodney Dangerfield said, “I don’t get no respect.”

One of the few positive things I can say about Alexander is how gorgeous it is. Childhood friends daydream in a recently conquered castle while under the tranquility of a sky beaming with a full moon and dozens of shining stars; heroes get a visually exuberant welcome-home celebration as rose pedals flood the sky. I am personally envious of the cinematographer, fortunate enough to film such luxurious costumes, scenic landscapes, marvelous sets, and rich props. It comes as no surprise the film cost over 150 million dollars. However, the battle sequences fail to soar no matter how wonderful the idea of men on golden chariots and armored elephants fighting in a forest is. It's much too difficult to care when the motives and intentions of the battle are unknown to the audience. With that, my praise ends here. That’s all folks.

The obvious fault with Alexander is just how disorganized it is. Every scene in a film is supposed to be like a puzzle piece. Some scenes illustrate a plot thickening, other shows character development, and others foreshadow the future. It is vital every scene have a clear idea of what it wants to achieve and play an essential role in a movie. The scenes in Alexander feel so clumsy and unsure of themselves. There is so much information being told from the narration, then a number of different events actually occur in the scene, and a great deal of it goes by rather quickly. In the end, I was watching these extraneous and fragmented sequences that seem to play a role for the whole. It becomes a chore to just watch.




One of the most irritating aspects about this movie is actually the narration, provided by Anthony Hopkins. One of the fundamental ideas of cinema is to show something rather than tell it. Here, the movie uses this narration almost like a crutch. He goes on like a history teacher in so many moments where the movie could let us experience what is going on first hand. Rather than show him conquering a particular place, he will simply narrate. Rather than show us a relationship problem Alexander has, he simply narrates. It gets to the point where we feel like we're being lectured rather than entertained. It does not help when the movie is nearly three hours long. Though I do not think it is a matter of over-indulgence, but an anxiety in direction that results in cinematic information-overload out of an obligation to do justice to such a man of historical importance.

Wait, though. It gets even worse when nearly every chance for developing Alexander misses time after time. The man had a tremendously fascinating life and yet here he rarely transcends a one dimensional nature. He was a great conqueror, had a drunk father, an obsessively paranoid mother, a male lover, and was even rumored to be the son of Zeus. But all of these facets become part of the pretty background, footnotes really, and simply are left on the back burner to a war with murky motives. How a movie three hours long can gyp the characters to such an extent is beyond me. The dramatic moments cannot provide the emotional goods for the audience because the movie remains distant and impersonal.

I know am not alone when I say Alexander was a mystery to decipher. There are many scenes where there is such a great deal of dialogue that is about as coherent as an advanced philosophy course. The rantings go on and on and by the time the conversation is finished you already seem to have forgotten what they were talking about. Take into account how the locations and times like to jumble a bit, telling us we have arrived somewhere new, but not the purpose of being there. In one part of the story, Alexander spares the family of the former ruler of a land, but little does the movie care to say why. From the cause of the war and even Alexander's own ideas, actions happen but the reasons are frequently obfuscated. His claim is that he will bring a great war to end all wars. This is the second time this year I became introduced to the ideology of using war to stop war.

I almost feel bad saying these things about Alexander, because Stone is obviously passionate in his direction. Further, I do admire his courage to the project more than anything. The movie is actually surprisingly graphic in the violence content alone. You see the aftermath of a beheading and some graphic stabbings. Some might be offended by a moment where an elephant is killed in a relatively gruesome manner.  There are several moment in the movie that imply rape or attempted rape that will likely raise a few eyebrows. While Stone was twisted into editing some of the homosexual content, he demanded to keep it for historical accuracy and it was not a modern spin as many accused, a shallow and unfounded accusation. I admire Stone's ambition so much, and yet his latest endeavor is such a catastrophe regardless of this point.

Why anybody has made such a big deal out the sexuality aspect is beyond me. If you watched Mulholland Drive and did not complain, you have no right to moan about this movie. Alexander the Great was bisexual. I think Farrell said it best when he said "It's not a straight film, it's not a gay film." The homophobia of the American audience has become deeply troublesome lately. Be it the snipping done here in Alexander, A Home at the End of the World, or Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, America has proven itself to be immature and closed-minded on certain aspects of sexuality. Even the MPAA hardly ever rates a movie NC-17 for violence, but moreover for nudity and sexual content, specifically male nudity. The notion that the form of the human body is somehow more offensive than the destruction of it is one of the most backward idea I have come across.

What I find most revolting was not the movie, but the buzz about it. On the website, Rotten Tomatoes, where I myself frequent, I saw a handful of reviews that gave Alexander a one out of ten for a score. When I went to check these reviews, only half of them even bothered to articulate on the position they took and the ones that did, were less than a paragraph. There is nothing worse than vultures that thrive on failure, and while Alexander certainly can be categorized as a failure, why it fails should be considered instead of scoffing and reveling in negativity.



This has not been a good year for epics. Alexander, along with Troy and King Arthur have failed to gain critical praise. Unfortunately in the end, Alexander fails in nearly every goal it aims to excel in. Every director is entitled to mess up a few times in their career. Alexander happens to be Oliver Stone’s cinematic falter, one of the worst films of 2004, and the biggest disappointment in recent memory. Even sadder, in walking out one may ask what was so great about Alexander, the man, to begin with. Despite a three hour running-time, Oliver Stone does not have the answer. If you are looking for beautiful imagery and the politics of war with a historical backdrop, skip Alexander and pick up Hero instead.

1659 Words · Published: 27 April 2005

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