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Title:Alexander
Release Dates:November 2004
Running Time:2 Hours 56 Minutes
Formats: In theaters
Rated:R
Starring:Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Rosario Dawson
Directed By:Oliver Stone
Produced By:Thomas Schuely, Moritz Borman, Jon Kilik, and Iain Smith
Written By:Christopher Kyle, Oliver Stone, and Laeta Kalogridis
Reviewed By:Burke G Sheppard

Anyone thinking of going to see Alexander because they're curious about the battle scenes should be warned there are almost no extended battle scenes in the movie. Of all Alexander's battles, we see extended scenes of only two, Gaugamela and the Hydaspes. Director Oliver Stone is much more interested in Alexander's sex life and his relationship with his parents than his military career. Stone spends no time at all what made Alexander such a remarkable leader of men and focuses entirely on the question why he undertook a military campaign intended to reach the literal end of the Earth. The answer, as depicted by Stone, is because he had a vision of universal human freedom in a benevolent empire open to all men, and also, perhaps, so that he could get away from his mother.

In fact, Alexander's scheming mother, played by Angelina Jolie, is one of the few bright spots in the movie. Jolie dominates every scene she is in, and when she is on screen you literally can't take your eyes off her. She plays Olympias as a sorceress with a thing for snakes, and who assures Alexander that his real father is Zeus. This sort of thing probably belongs more in a episode of Xena, but Jolie carries it off, partly because of her natural screen presence and partly because her character at least has a believable motivation. Alexander may be dreamer and an idealist, but Olympias is driven by ruthless ambition.

The movie spends some time on Alexander's early life and his sometimes stormy relationship with his father Philip, played by a scenery chewing Val Kilmer. Stone uses narration by Anthony Hopkins, who plays an aged Ptolemy recalling Alexander's career, to fast forward through everything that happens between Philip's death and the battle of Gaugamela. This is by far the larger and more impressive of the movies two battle scenes, partly because it takes place in an open desert where the audience can have a bird's eye view of the action. (Stone, who may still be obsessed with Vietnam, has Hydaspes taking place in a jungle.) Someone did a good job of drilling the extras who play the Macedonian phalangites -they show considerable spit and polish. There are some impressive aerial views of the opposing armies drawn up for battle, but once the battle is joined Stone hides everything under a pall of dust and shakes the camera as if a magnitude 8.8 earthquake was taking place. The dust may be accurate, but the jerky and sometimes out of focus camera work is extremely annoying.

The most jarring aspect of this movie is Stone's depiction of Alexander as openly bisexual. He carries a lifelong love for Hephaistion, played by Jared Leto. When Olympias urges him to marry and produce an heir, Alexander protests that he and Hephaistion love each other. The love scenes between Alexander (Colin Farrelland Hephaistion are extremely awkward, and produced a great deal of laughter in the audience. (For the record, your reviewer did not laugh. He was too miserably bored by that point.) With his long hair and heavy eye makeup, Leto looks like a cross between the male cover model for a romance novel and a drag queen, and this probably does not help most people in the audience take the relationship seriously, nor does the awful dialog.

Eventually Alexander does marry Roxane (Rosario Dawson), and Stone spends more time on their wedding night than he does on the battlefield. (Or maybe it just seems that way. The wedding night scenes are so bad that they seem to go on forever.) Here we are treated to the sight of a naked Roxane holding a knife to Alexander's throat because she just caught him in a passionate moment with Hephaistion. After this, Alexander and Roxane have rough sex, with the suggestion that Alexander liked it rough because he had seen his parents do it that way. The sex and nudity in this move makes it completely unsuitable for children. It deserves its R rating, and arguably should have been an NC-17. In any case, all of this comes across as too silly to be either erotic or offensive.

Early in Alexander, we see Philip showing a young Alexander a wall with scenes painted on it of Greek heros, and warning him that "the price of glory is suffering." Apparently this is supposed to be of profound import, since there are repeated flashback scenes of that wall throughout the movie. At times Stone seems to be reinventing Alexander as a metrosexual blue state artist, suffering for an artistic vision that the red state philistines around him cannot possibly understand.

It's difficult to critique Colin Farrell's performance given the load he has to carry. He isn't really convincing, but perhaps no one could have been given the script he had to work with. Farrell's Irish accent apparently led Stone to cast several other Irish actors as Macedonians to try to maintain consistency. The result is unintentionally funny, especially when Crateros (Rory McCann) argues that the army should return to Macedon. But the blame for everything wrong this movie lies squarely with Oliver Stone. The actors get a free pass, and only Angelina Jolie emerges with any credit.

The very best war movies can sometimes give the audience a sense of what it was like, and what those who fought actually experienced. Alexander comes close to this in only one respect. It may leave the viewer feeling like Alexander's veterans after many years on campaign - sick of it all, and desperately wondering when this nightmare will finally end so he can at long last go home.

 



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