Who Planned This Asian Invasion?
In the name of Zeus, Alexander could've conquered three more barbarian tribes in the time it takes Oliver Stone's soggy biographical epic to unspool.
The marathon would be endurable if anything entertaining transpired over the course of three hours. Colin Farrell's callow charisma can't hold up that long -- not after being soaked in blood, wine and hippie androgyny. Throw in appallingly clunky turns by Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer as the Great's parents, give his cohorts Irish accents, add cheesy music by Vangelis -- and you’re stuck watching a lavishly turgid toga fest.
The script provides a wobbly foundation. Stone violates a cardinal rule: "Show, don't tell." The self-regarding dialogue he imagined with the help of Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis sounds like the first draft of a History Channel documentary. Were the ancient Greeks really so cognizant of the historical import of their actions while carrying them out? Historical accuracy aside, you can't help being suspicious of characters with cheat sheets tucked inside their togas; they're too steeped in history and mythology to be taken seriously. If Alexander tells his horse, "Today we ride to our destiny," imagine what portentous lines he delivers to his human companions.
Factually speaking, it's hard to quibble with Stone's interpretation of the conqueror's bisexuality. Apparently the racier homosexual scenes were dealt with in the editing room. Aside from wrestling with Rosario Dawson's feisty, topless princess on their wedding night after a very 1960s, hippie ceremony (Farrell often looks like a flower child in armor), Alexander's sexual conquests occur off screen. But while it's good the hero's proclivities aren't repressed like in Troy, the movie's cloying sheen of androgyny feels silly and condescending.
Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) narrates the blood-soaked saga ensconced above the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt, in what looks to be a classical-themed Prada store. No way can Alexander, the man or the movie, live up to the glowing preamble the aged Ptolemy delivers -- and later revises. Forty years prior, Alexander's father King Philip (Kilmer) brings Aristotle, a leathery Christopher Plummer, to Macedonia to teach. He imparts important lessons, filling the young boys' heads with dreams of taming the barbarians to the east and distinguishing between noble and ignoble man-love.
Philip -- a coarse, drunken military man -- inexplicably speaks with an Irish lilt. Like Farrell, at least some of the actor's making up Alexander's pack of lads hail from the British Isles and so have natural brogues. Kilmer is eventually put out of his misery, but Jolie and her bizarre Transylvanian accent hang around as Alexander's viper mom, Olympias. She's got a thing for snakes and pushing her son to glory and power.
On the first stop of his eight-year Asian campaign, Alexander routs the cowardly and corrupt Persians, taking the majestic capital Babylon. From there he sets out on a wearying journey, founding at least ten cities called Alexandria and ending up in India. You sympathize with his homesick Macedonian compatriots. Their fatigue and frustration is contagious.
For a movie about history's most successful military conqueror, there are few battles, highlights being a hawk's-eye view of the skirmish with the swarthy Persians and a climactic scene on the sub-continent featuring elephants. Stone has higher ambitions than sword-and-sandal action, though. Surprisingly, the iconoclastic helmer can be read as endorsing an aggressive political ideology.
You'd swear on the sweet breath of Aphrodite that Stone is a follower of Donald Rumsfeld and other contemporary neo-conservatives. His middle-eastern guerilla war -- searching for the fled Persian King -- is comparable to George Bush's hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Stone's Alexander is a geo-political visionary carrying a civilizing message of multiculturalism, freedom, and democracy to the East. He becomes a tragic despot trying to realize his quixotic dream of joining Asia and Europe, Greek and Barbarian.
It's a compelling portrait. Unfortunately, for reasons having to do with moviemaking, you're still dying for Alexander's crusade to end so you can go home. Onward Macedonians!
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for violence and some sexuality/nudity.)