I’ll say this for Oliver Stone: When he makes a mess, he makes a HUGE MESS. He doesn’t just create trainwrecks. He knocks the train off the rails, sets it on fire, then kills every person onboard. (And takes three hours to do it.)
“Alexander” is an excessive, massive film, “spectacular” only in the sense that it features many actors making spectacles of themselves. At 175 minutes in length yet not nearly deep enough to justify such extremes, it reeks with pretension. It is, to put it bluntly, a bad movie, certainly Stone’s worst.
Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king and conqueror, died in 323 B.C. Whatever else you didn’t know about him is told to us by Ptolemy (played in old age by Anthony Hopkins), dictating Greek history to dutiful scribes some years later. Ptolemy is not a particularly interesting history professor, given as he is to vague philosophical-sounding intonations about the greatness of Mr. The Great, but that doesn’t stop Stone from using him as a narrator throughout the film, both on screen and in voice-over.
Played by a Colin Farrell whose hair and accent have been slightly bleached, Alexander is the bastard son of King Philip (Val Kilmer) and his mistress Olympias (Angelina Jolie). His illegitimate status makes him an unlikely successor to the throne, a fact which Olympias remedies by getting Philip killed before he can produce any other viable heirs.
Alexander’s creepy relationship with Mom is one of the film’s several giggling points, and in fact Angelina Jolie’s entire performance is, I think, destined to become a camp classic, up there with Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest.” (Jolie is one year older than Farrell, by the way.) She screams, schemes and moans with wild abandon, not to mention her fondness for snakes and her indescribable accent.
(We are not going to spend a lot of time discussing the accents in the film, because it’s useless. I think the cast members just chose them at random, perhaps by putting slips of paper into a hat and choosing. Jolie might be doing Greek, but if she is, she’s the only one. Several characters have Irish accents, except for Farrell, who IS Irish, but who has toned his brogue down a lot. Rosario Dawson’s accent changes constantly, though I will always recall with fondness the way she glares at one of Alexander’s boy-toys and says, “You love heem?”)
But back to the story. After several scenes set in Alexander’s early life, we meet him as a grown-up, a popular leader and commander of a massive army. He’s currently pursuing the Persian king Darius (Raz Degan), going to the ends of the earth if necessary, expanding Macedonia’s rule as he goes. His men love him, and some of his men REALLY love him, if you know what I mean. And what I mean is that sometimes they do it. The love of Alexander’s life is Hephaistion (Jared Leto), but for reasons not made entirely clear, Alexander marries a woman anyway.
Her name is Roxane (Rosario Dawson), a Babylonian girl, and though the only sex scene in the film is between her and Alexander, it is never suggested that he actually loves her. His fondness for the menfolk is given much more weight, even though wariness on the part of Warner Bros. forced Stone to keep that aspect from getting too graphic. This fact will be met with appreciation by those who don’t enjoy seeing gay sex scenes, of course, but it does seem silly to make a film about a gay historical figure, keep referring to his gayness, show him pining for his gay lovers, and then never actually let him be gay.
Anyway, Alexander continues conquering the world, battling Fate and trying to keep the history of flawed men who met their doom from repeating itself. Stone gives us plenty of jittery battle scenes, complete with wailing strings and shrieking choirs on the soundtrack, but since the only character we care even remotely about is Alexander himself, these scenes are somewhat useless. His soldiers, though they have names, don’t register as distinct characters; they’re just Bearded Guy or Guy With One Eye or Guy Who’s Too Pretty To Be A Soldier.
(The exception is Philotas, who turns out to be treacherous, whose name I remember only because I kept thinking they were saying “Flautas,” which is my favorite Mexican dish. But, like Oliver Stone, I digress.)
The screenplay, by Stone, Christopher Kyle (“K-19: The Widowmaker”) and Laeta Kalogridis, teems with outrageous dialogue, made outrageouser by the wide variety of inappropriate accents chosen apparently at random by the cast. After Rosario Dawson’s “You love heem?,” my favorite line is Colin Farrell shouting at his mother, “You birthed me in a sac of hate!” I cannot wait to blurt this out at Thanksgiving dinner.
Old Ptolemy tells us Alexander’s “failure towered over other men’s successes,” but you wouldn’t know it to watch the film. All Stone gives us is a succession of battles and scenes of half-hearted introspection, revealing almost nothing about the man Alexander, and even less about those around him. I honestly don’t know what Stone was trying to do here. I wonder if even he does.
D+ (2 hrs., 55 min.; )