Oliver Stone's Alexander Falls Short of Epic Status
- Tuesday, November 23, 2004
DVD Release Date: August 2, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: November 24, 2004
Rating: R (for violence and some sexuality/nudity)
Run Time: 2 hr. 45 min.
Director: Oliver Stone
Actors: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto
EDITORIAL NOTE: The following review contains subject matter that may be inappropriate for children and young teens. Parental supervision is advised.
Oliver Stone has never been a director to resist the challenge of portraying historic icons. After all, who will forget Stone's unique versions of history in Malcolm X, JFK, Evita and Nixon, much less his other films like Platoon, Wall Street and Scarface, which have virtually become modern classics. Unfortunately, despite the greatest of aspirations - not to mention a tremendous budget - Stone's latest project falls short of epic status.
Alexander the Great has been portrayed just once on film, in Robert Rossen's 1956 classic starring Richard Burton, which is considered by many to be an honorable failure. So it is not surprising that Stone, who was both director and principal screenwriter for Alexander, chose to take on such a massive endeavor. The difficulty of telling this story in less than three hours is evident, however, so the film necessarily has gaps, some of them significant and quite detrimental to the story. But far more interesting is what Stone chose to focus on. For, rather than portraying Alexander as an intellectual and a visionary, triumphant leader, Stone presents us with an uncertain boy who is so riddled by weakness that he never becomes the man history insists he was.
Son of King Phillip II of Macedonia, Alexander had conquered 90 percent of the known world by the age of 25. At his death at the age of 32, in 323 B.C., he had marched his army for 20,000 miles over eight years and never once seen defeat. As a result, Alexander Hellenized more than two million square miles, united East and West and created an empire like none the world had ever seen. Plutarch's Lives describes him as a man who was close to his mother and who longed for his father's blessing, which he never received. He reportedly had a beautiful singing voice that was mocked by Phillip, which caused him to abandon that gift. As an adult, Alexander was as much known for his sexual peccadillos as his military conquests. In addition to three wives, mistresses and countless homosexual lovers, he surrounded himself with eunuchs, who existed - and who had been brutally castrated - for the sole purpose of the emperor's sexual pleasure.
Stone's interpretation of Alexander is interesting, but for the most part strays from historical accounts. Clearly, it's an attempt to demythologize the conqueror by showing us his weaknesses. After all, even though Alexander was regarded with godlike wonder, leading many to conclude that his father was a god, like Zeus or Dionysus, ultimately Alexander was just a man. But the man he became is not the one we see onscreen.
To be fair to Colin Farrell, who plays the lead role with puffy blond hair and a less-than-impressive set of muscles for a battle-hardened soldier, the script is as much of a problem as his performance. The opening act, which goes on for almost an hour, dwells far too long on Alexander's childhood, then leaps forward to his second battle against King Darius of Persia, which came after he had already conquered half the world. We never see how Alexander became so proficient in battle (alongside his formidable warrior father in earlier skirmishes) and his succession to the throne comes toward the end of the film, in a poorly-placed flashback that should never have been a flashback to begin with.
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