–-I haven’t actually heard much about this film. It didn’t stay in the main-run theatres for long.
–-Angelina Jolie plays his mother.
–-Yeah, but have you heard anything about the film? Is it any good?
–-They used body make-up to cover her tattoos.
–-I have a bad feeling about this.

With 2004 about to end, I thought I would review the year’s biggest-budget hysterical epic. Uh, historical. Sorry.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeto Kalogridis
Production design:Jan Roelfs.

Features:

Colin Farrell…Alexander
Anthony Hopkins…Ptolemy
Angelina Jolie…Olympia
Val Kilmer…Philip

Jared Leto…Hephastion
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers…Cassander
Rosario Dawson…Roxane
Connor Paolo…Young Alexander
Christopher Plummer…Aristotle
Jean Le Duc…Fat Eunuch

Premise:

Alexander conquers the known world. The film surrounds the story with fantastic scenery– which the actors then chew in a manner that would make William Shatner proud. The script, meanwhile, is a muddled mess. This story really required another six hours to make it coherent, and a director with some vague concept of subtlety.

High Point:

The battle in India with armoured elephants proves the best of a number of excellent battle sequences. Stone’s film lacks heart, but he recreates historical battles in both their epic grandeur and bloody violence.

Low Point:

The incoherent, aimless scripting. Stone tries to cover huge holes in his script by having Anthony Hopkins narrate. In the end, this does more to slow down the film. The decision to place a critical early-life scene in flashback when the movie has nearly reached its conclusion just seems baffling. I can’t think of any good narrative purpose the decision serves, save to get us to the first battle before we fall asleep.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6

Effects: 6/6 The battle sequences are slow coming, but they prove spectacular when they do, and the film shows us wonders. Ancient Babylon, in particular, exceeded my expectations.

Story: 2/6: This film already runs three hours, but it needs another six to untangle the plot, and give us time to care about characters.

Acting: 3/6: Hopkins handles his part well, but most of the actors put in atrocious, over-the-top performances that might suit Greek tragedy or Wagnerian opera, but don’t work in this film. Just for the record; constant shouting does not equal dramatic acting.

While nearly everyone speaks with their native accent– American or British or Irish (after all, the characters would be speaking ancient Greek and other languages; I don’t have a problem in just having them use their natural accents in an historical epic)– Angelina Jolie gives Olympia this bizarre brogue that sounds like Bela Lugosi’s great-granddaughter playing a gypsy fortuneteller in a school play. Why? Weren’t her ever-present pet snakes enough to turn her into the exotic witch Stone apparently believes she was?

Production: 6/6 With locations in Malta, Thailand, and Morocco, incredible recreations of places long-gone, and top-notch CGI and matte work, Alexander provides visual spectacle to match any SF or fantasy film.

Emotional Response: 2/6 The battles will astound you, and the convey a sense of the heroism and brutality of the ancient world (despite all of the dust, however, we don’t get the filth). The film fails fundamentally, however, because it does not allow you to care about any of the characters.

Overall: 3/6.

In total, Alexander receives 25/42.

Additional Comments

The film appears to contain some kind of Iraqi war/War on Terror subtext in the early battles with the Persians. References are made to Alexander completing– and exceeding– his father’s quest, perhaps going further than he should. He tells his troops they are free men up against an evil despot-– a notion which the film then deliberately problematizes. The Persian leader superficially resembles Osama bin Laden. I have no idea if Stone intended any of this, but it seems possible.

Stone has no idea what to do with Alexander’s purported (by some) bisexuality. A filmmaker can ignore this, explore it, or have the actors subtly reference it. Stone chooses the final option, except he seems incapable of subtlety, and the film’s great weakness is the failure to explore and develop character, so that we see just enough to know that (1) he wanted to explore this possibility but (2) we’re missing exactly what it is he wanted to explore.

Of course, Alexander’s relationships with women aren’t handled any better.