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
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.