Weird Al, the epic

Oliver Stone’s grand-scale Alexander can’t live up to its subject

LOOKS THAT KILL Colin Farrell gets his stab at playing the Hollywood leading man, as the title character in Oliver Stone’s <i>Alexander</i>.

LOOKS THAT KILL Colin Farrell gets his stab at playing the Hollywood leading man, as the title character in Oliver Stone’s Alexander.

Starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson and Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Oliver Stone. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

Oliver Stone’s efforts to tell the story of Alexander the Great in an epic-scale movie may have been pure folly right from the start. But that somehow has a lot to do with this shambling wreck of a blockbuster generating more interest, however perverse, than it would seem to have any right to.

Mainstream reviewers have been falling all over themselves mocking everything from the wildly erratic performances and the disheveled script to the accents and dyed hair and wigs of the actors. The mockery is not undeserved, but it has perhaps been inordinately magnified by Stone’s long since having outworn his welcome among critics and journalists, and it obscures the fact of daring and ambition that exercise a continuing fascination amid the film’s steady stream of misfires, gaffes and flash-in-the-plan spectacle.

Both the glory and the curse of this film are that it has a subject—the life of a great figure from ancient history—about which there is more to be told than could ever be packed into even the most ingeniously constructed three-hour movie epic. There is precious little about Stone’s Alexander that is ingenious, but the thing does have a colossal hero, a king and warrior who is not only the first European empire-builder but also one who is convinced he can improve the world by conquering it and conferring the benefits of his own civilization (Aristotle—played by Christopher Plummer—looms large among his mentors).

And that’s only part of the story. Alexander’s convoluted relationships with his parents, one-eyed King Philip (Val Kilmer) and the serpentine “sorceress” Olympias (Angelina Jolie), have the makings of classical tragedy and ancient myth alike. And Alexander himself has a deeper attachment to his longtime male lover Hephaistion (Jared Leto) than to either of his wives.

There might be a Shakespearean tragedy lurking in all that, but no matter—even if Stone and his co-writers were able to perform closer to that standard, this cinematic Alexander would get lost in its discordant mix of intimate histrionics and massive battle scenes. That Stone would construct so much of his film in conventional Hollywood terms—despite the definitive realignment of movie epics in the Monte Python satires, the anti-epics of Robert Bresson, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, and war films such as Full Metal Jacket and Stone’s own Platoon—may be the most damning error of all.

Strangely, the dramatic scenes—with all their scenery chewing, dead spots, kitsch, unintentional humor and mismatched acting styles—are more interesting than any of the prolonged, massively staged battle scenes. There are some dazzling moments of spectacle and fury in the film’s war scenes, but on the whole the three major battle sequences are over-edited, over-produced and over-FX’d. Too often their main effect is mostly a matter of mind-numbing and mostly meaningless chaos.