Alexander the Not-So-Great
Who was Alexander? To the Macedonians of 340 BC, he was a dashing warrior king and a supreme ruler. To his enemies, he was a feared conqueror. To me, he was merely a name in the history books -- always followed by "the Great." But to Oliver Stone, Alexander was a man ahead of his time. A man of curiosity and of inspiration.
Alexander is the product of Stone's 15-year love affair with Alexander the Great. Since his early childhood in Manhattan's Upper East Side, Stone has admired this mysterious leader. In fact, a brief flash of Alexander appears in Stone's The Doors. Attracted by the leadership and manhood traits that populate the Macedonian warrior's legends, Stone always knew he would eventually bring his idol's story to the big screen. But he never had the means until meeting Moritz Borman, a German-born executive with bags of money and the backing of his company, an organization that finances big-budget pictures which don't require a greenlight from major studios.
The product of this collaboration is a swollen behemoth of a celluloid monster -- sometimes mildly interesting, but most of the time downright boring. It wants to be a far-reaching, all-encompassing historical tribute to the misunderstood hero, but instead, it comes off as a disjointed collection of epic filmmaking techniques with neither a glue to bind them nor a purpose to drive them. I didn't really care much about Alexander the Great before seeing this film, and Stone did nothing to change that.
A few scenes in and of themselves are truly breathtaking --including an aerial shot of the battle of Gaugamela where Alexander's 50,000 man army defeated a Prussian army of some 250,000; and a beautifully choreographed standoff of horse versus elephant -- but the film as a whole is a bromidic character portrait short on character and big on opulence.
I'm sure we all know from the over-saturation of the film's trailers that Alexander conquered most of the known world by the time he was 32 years old. How was he able to accomplish this feat? Stone never tells us. Is it more important for us to know about his his bi-sexuality than about what made him such a powerful warrior? In Braveheart, Mel Gibson not only successfully depicted William Wallace's personal complexities and leadership qualities, he also brought us right onto the battlefield and disclosed the man's personal military tactics. Conversely, most of the battle scenes in Alexander (surprisingly for a 3-hour movie, there aren't that many) are confusing, overly complex and nearly impossible to unscramble. Both films used extremely graphic footage to demonstrate the reality and savagery of hand-to-hand warfare. But in Braveheart, we were fighting alongside Wallace's men, rooting for their cause of freedom. I'm still not sure why Alexander was fighting.
And why did he marry outside of his royal bloodlines? Who was responsible for his death? Why do the Greeks speak with Irish accents? The film asks more questions than it answers, which is acceptable for a documentary but hardly satisfying for such an ambitious biopic. In The Doors, Stone effectively penetrated the aura of Morrison's poetic soul. Sadly, in Alexander he seems satisfied with a superficial depiction of a confused bi-sexual king.
Ultimately the film's balance lies in the hands of its leading man, Colin Farrell. At first I thought he seemed a bit slight for the role of such a mighty warrior, but this may be fitting after all, as Alexander was barely out of his teens at the time of his conquests. Farrell delivers an adequate performance throughout, but always falls flat on his face when attempting to motivate his troops. We all wanted to join the fight after hearing William Wallace deliver his blistering pre-battle motivationals, while Farrell only musters thoughts of how he doesn't match Gibson. Most of the film seems slanted toward historical accuracy rather than character building, so Farrell never really gets a chance to soar.
Val Kilmer pulls his weight as the one-eyed King Phillip II of Macedonia and father of Alexander, but Angelina Jolie teeters on going over the top with her portrayal of Olympias, Alexander's poison-tongued mother. Her accent is more exaggerated than any other character except for a few inappropriate Irish accents that crop up from time to time.
If this movie is an accurate representation of what Alexander was like in real-life, then I'm convinced he was more interesting in myth! Despite its nearly three hour runtime, Alexander plays more like a poorly edited History Channel recreation than it does a filmmaker's 15-year labor of love.
(Released by Warner Brothers and rated "R" for violence and some sexuality/nudity.)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com.