U.S. Release Date:
November 24, 2004
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis
Producer: Jon Kilik, Gianni Nunnari (co-executive)
Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 2 hours and 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (violence and some sexuality/nudity)
Oliver Stone's Alexander is more melodramatic than operatic, though there is much to appreciate. In choosing Alexander the Great as his subject, Stone tries to capture one of the world's greatest men and sometimes the movie is as breathtaking as it is ambitious.
At its core, Alexander presents a man who changed the world, according to Stone's estimate of Alexander (Colin Farrell) as a passionate, conquering hero with a penchant for Dionysian hedonism. Stone's script, co-written by Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis, provides a narrative by an elder Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who was once Alexander's comrade.
With soothing Mr. Hopkins as storymaster, Alexander transcends time. The son of Macedonian king Philip (Val Kilmer) and shrewd mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) is challenged in his youth by another warrior, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), a fierce competitor with whom he forms a lifelong bond, even as Alexander is assured by his mother that he is on top of the world. Taught by Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), whom he peppers with questions, the bright, defiant boy Alexander (Connor Paolo) learns that the noblest cause is Greece, the symbol of man's best, and that to do battle is to think.
Alexander takes his lessons seriously; he publicly demands that his father spare a wild stallion, which—to the astonishment of those in the stadium—he mounts and rides bareback, leaving the audience breathless. Even his father cheers Alexander's daring feat. The myth comes alive. Stone skips the rest of Alexander's youth and catapults Alexander and his army of 40,000 men and 7,000 cavalry to the historic showdown in the sands, where he faces 250,000 soldiers led by the king of Persia.
It is the movie's definitive scene: the astounding Battle of Guagamela—a confrontation between Western civilization and eastern mysticism—and it is recreated with as much reverence for the heroic Alexander as Stone can express, thanks to Colin Farrell's convincing portrayal of a fearless commander, who recognizes the uniqueness of each individual before he orders men to combat, and the incessant drumbeat of war, a welcome return to the screen for Vangelis, the composer of Chariots of Fire and 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
It is a climax that comes too soon, and grand style does not camouflage Alexander's flaws. As he moves east and his hair grows longer, he slips into a drunken Dionysian stupor—with Leto's tender Hephaistion never far from his side—with no apparent purpose. A few lines about cultural harmony are lost in a movie that's too long, overwrought and saddled with Angelina Jolie's cross between a gypsy and her eye-patched Sky Captain character.
Maybe Stone was straitjacketed by the cultural jihad—how else to explain why he reduced an ostensibly intimate same-sex relationship to three hugs—but the second half of the picture induces sleep, dominated by Alexander's apparently aimless Asian conquests. It's as though Stone gives up halfway to India, or lets his thoughts wander too far into reconfiguring Alexander as some sort of hippie. Alexander's 8-year march east gets duller as soon as he leaves Babylon. The movie about the man who tamed most of the untamed world by the time he was 25 wobbles.
But it doesn't fall down. In an industry dominated by those who seek no greater goal than imitations and remakes, any movie that features Aristotle deserves some praise. Oliver Stone's attempt to glorify Alexander is a bold undertaking—not because he depicts Alexander's romantic relations with another man—and one does get some sense of Alexander. Bogged down by a march toward more melodrama, without much to say about the man, Alexander is merely less than great.
For a suggested retail price of $29.95, Oliver Stone's Alexander is worth the price of admission only for movie and history buffs. The two-disc Director's Cut package features Stone's changed version of the movie—shorter than the theatrical release (which is also available on DVD) with flashbacks jumped to later in the story—three half-hour features and a few other extras. The best thing to say about this DVD is that Stone's commentary conveys his passion.
The first feature—it is not a documentary—is called Resurrecting Alexander, but it is essentially culled from the same stream-of-consciousness scraps as the other two bits, Perfect is the Enemy of Good and The Death of Alexander . There isn't much point to these indulgent pieces, which show various crew members, including Stone, on location mumbling, swearing and pontificating about this or that. At one point, someone says "you can see how a movie wound up so messy." Indeed, co-producer John Kilik looks bewildered. Poor audio plagues each feature.
Stone's commentary reveals another side to the controversial director. He admits he kept changing Aristotle's scene, observing that today's audience has no patience for teaching scenes, and he shows a reverence for both ancient history in general and Alexander the Great in particular. Given the knee-jerk rejection of the movie's perceived homosexual aspects—causing even Dr. Laura to rush to Stone's defense—he's justified in griping about how his epic was vilified by snickering idiots. He spares no one, denouncing gay and religious radicals.
But he tries to have it both ways, toying with the nature of Alexander's and Hephaistion's affections and criticizing Richard Burton's Alexander the Great (1956) as too "linear," while describing battle positions from the Guagamela scenes (which remain indistinguishable) in clear, conceptual terms, wrongly calling Alexander's strategy "omniscience" and pegging everything to "sacrifice."
Other pieces include an afterthought about composer Vangelis—whose music for Alexander's triumphant entrance into the heart of the Persian empire is a pleasure—that's under five minutes and a teaser trailer that's frankly better than the movie.
Though he regards Alexander as "the most unique individual in history" and clearly celebrates his military genius—during the commentary, Stone erupts with enthusiasm: "he must win completely—he cannot half-win"—Stone is short on facts. Interesting tidbits, such as the soaring eagle at Guagamela being real, not computer generated, are dwarfed by his lengthy speeches about an ancient history the movie fails to dramatize.
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