Take an established playwright, the creator of a short-lived but cultish TV
series and an Oscar winning filmmaker, then add in an esteemed Oxonian historical
advisor and you have the perfect recipe for a successful epic motion picture. Or at
least you do on paper. Something terrible happened between the page and the screen
and the audience is forced to endure an almost three-hour mishmash of bad accents,
so-so acting and less than spectacular production and costume designs.
Somewhere in the life of Alexander the Great, there might be the makings of
a terrific motion picture, but in two attempts Hollywood has botched it – and done so
badly. In 2004, audiences sat through the lackluster TROY. Well, next to
ALEXANDER, that debacle almost looks like a masterpiece.
What is wrong with Stone's vision? Well, to be truthful, nearly everything. The
framing narrative device of having an aged Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins looking like a
refugee from a road show version of "I, Claudius" rather than an Egyptian pharaoh)
narrate his memoirs is merely the first. These scenes add a good half-hour to an
already padded feature and really do not add much to the story. Playing the major
characters is a rogue's gallery of contemporary Tinseltown's bad boys and girls, each
of whom overacts. Val Kilmer, who has proven a strong screen presence in fare as
diverse as THE DOORS and WONDERLAND (2003), merely shouts as Philip of
Macedonia, Alexander's father. As his treacherous mother Olympias, Angelina Jolie
employs an unplaceable accent and gets to cavort with snakes. She tries hard but
the script calls for her to deliver such howlers that the audience tends to laugh at
In the titular role, Colin Farrell merely lacks the gravitas necessary to carry off
the part. It also doesn't help that he makes only a rudimentary effort to hide his
natural brogue. I was less put off by his unsuccessful attempt to go blond as I was
by the way Stone's direction and the screenplay saddle the actor with a less than
three-dimensional character. The viewer is never given the opportunity to learn what
truly drives Alexander. There' an attempt to place the blame on dear old mom, but
that smacks more of 20th-century psychoanalysis than of true character development
The film does not shy away from saying that the great love of Alexander's life
was his boyhood pal Hephaistion (a bland Jared Leto). Yet the men's affair is played
out with only meaningful glances and the occasional manly hug. Heavily-denied
rumors had it that Warner Bros. executives were skittish in the current political
climate and asked for cuts. Given Stone's clout and reputation, that seems doubtful.
Still, the "gay" content is tame. Contrast it, for instance, with the wedding night
sequence of Alexander and his pagan bride Roxane (Rosario Dawson, wasted in an
underwritten and embarrassing part) which starts off as "sex" bordering on rape (an
echo of an earlier scene between Kilmer and Jolie) that ends up with Dawson and
Farrell completely nude.
Stone stages several spectacular battle sequences, but coming on the heels of
efforts like THE LORD OF THE RINGS, these moments pale in comparison. It also
doesn't help that a climactic battle in the film's last third suffers due to technical
problems. (The print was exposed and time, logistics and money did not allow for
reshoots.) Stone and his gifted cinematographer Roderigo Prieto "fudged" a bit by
washing the scenes with red symbolizing the spilled blood.
There are germs of ideas in the screenplay that don't really take hold,
especially in relation to the fighting. Obvious parallels to American imperialism might
be argued, but Stone doesn' really develop these, which coming from the maker of
PLATOON is something of a surprise. But then, ALEXANDER is nothing more than
missed opportunities and bad choices. Perhaps the only thing the filmmakers and the
studio got right was to open this turkey in movie theaters the day before
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some sexuality/nudity
Running time: 173 mins.
|© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.