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Alexander   D

Warner Bros. Pictures / Intermedia Films

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Plummer.

Review by Rob Vaux

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie. You know you're my favorite batshit crazy director. No one else blends bombast and hysteria so memorably; no one else has made such an ethos out of the crazed fever dream. You've produced some amazing works -- works that can stand up to any film made in the last quarter-century. And when you drop the ball, it's almost as good, for the resulting howler is so outrageous that pointing and laughing becomes an entertainment unto itself. Alexander may be your worst film yet... and therefore one of your most entertaining. What other film can boast Colin Farrell in a blonde wig, looking eerily like Prince Herbert from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? What other film can feature Angelina Jolie purring overheated lines in a Natasha Fatale accent? What other film could posit Macedonians with Irish brogues, brigades of camels with death in their eyes, and hoarsening speeches landing with the regularity of a Swiss watch? And what other director could look at us with a straight face -- stony expression held up by force of will alone -- and ask us to take it seriously?

But Alexander's stunning, glorious failures are not confined solely to unintentional camp. That's just part of the fun -- along with a sexy but overstuffed production design that drowns us in gold and marble eye candy. The film's deepest problems lie in its confused and simplistic approach to its subject. Alexander the Great was a towering figure, but Alexander the movie doesn't provide the slightest insight into who he was or how he attained so much. It runs the gamut from his birth in Macedonia to his death by fever 33 years later, guided by the narration of Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), who served beneath him during his campaigns. We're treated to his early history as a pawn between his Creep-Queen mother (Jolie) and his father King Philip (Val Kilmer); his initial battles against the Persian empire; the triumphant arrival in his new capital of Babylon; a blooming Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name with dewy-eyed Hephaistion (Jared Leto); and the final, doomed expedition to the ends of the known world.

It's fascinating material, and with three hours to play with, they certainly had the time to develop it right. But Alexander's structure is a nightmare: haphazard and jumpy without the slightest sense of direction or cohesion. Some sections drag on with no end in sight, bludgeoning the same tired points over and over again. Others are glossed over entirely, reduced to a few words from Hopkins before moving on to the next turgid set piece. We get little sense of Alexander's military genius, despite a pair of battles drenched in bloodthirsty pomp. His leadership comes out in Farrell's undeniable charisma, but the film renders his philosophies a mishmash of barely-coherent enlightenment. There's a great emphasis on the Machiavellian politics beneath him, but it feels old and tired, and reduces the political difficulties of the time to an endless series of roaring monologues. From a historical and political perspective, Alexander shows us a lot, but tells us absolutely nothing.

The personal story offers even less. Hopkins is forced to dish out blanket expository statements to cover up vast chunks of missing material, supported only the crudest attempts to illustrate his words. There are efforts at a Freudian link to Alexander's mother, at an idealism that saw the entire world united as one, at an aspiration to the mythic that would place the conqueror alongside the gods themselves. But everything is delivered in fits and starts, clustered around a few simplistic ideas that never link into a clear picture. The film's cacophonous decibel level buries any personal nuance beneath it, reducing Farrell to ragged bellows in order to make himself heard. Indeed, the film's only redeemable feature is the brave way it grapples with Alexander's purported homosexuality -- a refreshing candor that only the insanely fearless can reach.

Ironically, Alexander's absolute devotion to its seething vision turns it from the merely unwatchable to the deliciously camp. Oliver Stone doesn't do anything half-assed and his full-throttle efforts here push the entire affair over the top. Who could say no to shots of debaucherous Greeks staggering through endless orgies or preposterous speeches delivered with the quiver-lipped sincerity of an 8th-grade civics teacher? And it bears repeating: Farrell's locks really demolish any efforts to take him seriously. The running time is relentless -- by the time the elephants show up, you may be pleading for mercy -- but midnight pajama parties will never be the same when this bad boy hits DVD. Sadly, I don't think that was Stone's intent. Alexander is a great thunderous wreck, loud as a gong and just as hollow, but at least it lets us laugh at it. With filmmaking this inept, you take your pleasures where you can find them.

Review published 11.28.2004.

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