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2004 - R - 173 Mins.
Director: Oliver Stone
Producer: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:

mother knows best
‘Alexander’ is huge train wreck of a movie – a spectacle that’s an instant camp classic and guilty pleasure. Oliver Stone’s first directorial project since 1999’s ‘Any Given Sunday,’ ‘Alexander’ feels like Stone was trying to emulate the grandeur of Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ but ends up as if it were created by Paul Verhoeven.

Woefully miscast Irish heartthrob Colin Farrell stars as Alexander the Great, one of ancient Greece’s greatest kings who waged war until his empire stretched from Greece to Egypt and to the borders of India. Taking a page from ‘Troy’s’ book, the Greek hero is a blond! And to accommodate Farrell’s Irish accent, many of the cast adopt an Irish lilt as well. It’s a nudge and wink to those classic Greco-Roman epics when all the ancients spoke with British accents.

Like any good epic movie, there’s a huge cast of varying talents. Angelina Jolie is suitable enchanting as the sorceress/Queen Olympias, Alexander’s nagging mother with a gypsy accent and a penchant for snakes and politics. (Oddly enough, Jolie is only a year older than Farrell.) Val Kilmer is terrible as the movie’s ham – he plays Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedonia. Jared Leto (who would have made a more convincing Alexander) has an interesting and pivotal supporting role as Alexander's longtime lover, Hephaistion. Rounding out the cast of notables includes our narrator, Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy, Rosario Dawson as Alexander's wife, as well as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and a classy cameo from veteran, Christopher Plummer as Aristotle.

Running almost 3 hours, ‘Alexander’ tries to be both epic in scope and personal in its drama. The entire flick is told in flashback from Ptolemy’s point of view as a retired nobleman living in Alexandria, Egypt. What drove Alexander to wage a 7-year war to the frontiers of India? How did he keep his Greek troops from revolting as they marched further and further from home? And did his sexuality affect how he made his decisions?

Stone, who also co-wrote the script, poses a lot of interesting questions because he asks the audience to imagine a world from Alexander’s point of view. The known world to ancient Greece extended only to the edges of Persia so Alexander was both king and explorer as his army pushed east into unknown lands. He is also portrayed as somewhat of a utopian, hoping that his new empire would allow different races to mix and unify – Alexander becomes annoyed at his fellow Greeks’ disdain for all things not Greek and therefore barbarian.

There’s also a noisy and deadly conflict between Alexander’s mother and father that serves as a backdrop to Alexander’s unhappy childhood. Once his father is assassinated, the young king is hell-bent to put as much distance between him and Greece as possible. Perceived as a bastard son and a momma’s boy, Stone’s Alexander obviously had a lot to prove to himself and to his troops.

The problem with ‘Alexander’ is that Stone is unable to strike the balance between war epic and the personal portrait of a legendary figure. It’s a balance that Ridley Scott managed in ‘Gladiator’ with Russell Crowe’s Maximus but that Wolfgang Petersen also bungled with ‘Troy.’ 'Alexander' is a better movie than 'Troy' and visually, ‘Alexander’ is much more impressive with sweeping crane shots and some fancy aerial views of battles. It’s also much more exotic as each foreign city is rich with detail – from Alexander’s triumphant entrance into Babylon that echoed Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’ to some predictable but still grandly set dining halls – it seems malcontents always like to test fate with a poorly worded drunken toast to their king.

Ultimately, Farrell’s Alexander is a very confused young man who is pressured by the memory of his father, nagging letters from his mother, and an unhappy army. Farrell is always interesting to watch as an actor but here he’s chosen to portray Alexander as peevish punk as opposed to a leader of men who could inspire an army to literally follow him to the ends of the world. The mediocre script that prefers to focus on the sexual politics doesn’t serve Farrell well either. Alexander had to get married in order to produce an heir. When he eventually marries, he only seems to have added yet another person to nag him about his command decisions. Imagine if a History Channel profile of Hitler summed it up with an unhappy childhood.

Absolutely worth seeing once it’s available on video, ‘Alexander’ is a tough 3-hour marathon in the movie theater because of its uneven pacing and the over-use of Hopkins’ droning narration. This movie is going to spawn drinking games like ‘Show Girls.’ Have a drink every time Jared Leto looks longingly at Farrell. Take a swig whenever Farrell creases his brow. Or try this new game – can you keep your lips parted as long as Jolie? Enjoy ‘Alexander’ for Jolie’s hissy fits or some spectacularly bloody battle scenes or the changing roots in Farrell’s blond hair. But if you’re looking for any insight to the historical figure, you’ll only come away amazed at how much damage a mother’s nagging can do.

Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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