A young Alexander (Colin Farrell) inherits the throne of Macedonia on the murder of his father, Phillip II (Val Kilmer) – a public murder orchestrated by his adoring, ambitious, bewitching (perhaps darkly so) mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie). Accompanied by his closest army captains from the royal court, he soon begins a military sweep Eastwards towards Persia, beating a bloody path to what he thinks would be a vast empire to unite peoples under a golden ruler. His vision is for a peaceful world, albeit forged out of brutal war. He leads his army through the Middle East to India, looking for the Great Eastern Sea – the end of the world – all the time egged on and constantly monitored and influenced by his mother from a distance, though she disapproves of his marriage in 327 BC to the Sogdian (now Uzbekistan) princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Soon, some of his men begin to revolt after the seven years of ever more distant wars from home; he turns back to base himself at Babylon and begins to plan further conquests, but after a 10 day fever, he dies.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Alexander came after Achilles, as this film by Oliver Stone comes after the story of Achilles in Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, also completed in 2004. There was almost a second Alexander, from Baz Luhrmann, but that’s been put in aspic for now. Ancient Greek history is coming cinematically alive through some sort of universal filmmaking Zeitgeist. Is this a good thing? On the evidence, I think not. Even at three hours, these films have failed the simple story telling test. Oliver Stone’s Alexander is a garbled, over-stuffed turkey that has been force fed historical events, people and places until its liver explodes in a spectacularly colourful and violent bloodbath, tempered with sinewy speeches.
Too many Irish accents (Angelina Jolie’s strange Arab-influenced accent excepted and unaccounted for), too many pretty scars on the faces of soldiers speaking forced dialogue and too many rapid cut jumps of scenes shot by hand held camera make the film less a portrait of the enigmatic Alexander the Great as a permanent exhibition of cinema’s arts and crafts. We are forever aware of the filming, the acting, the art direction and the insistence of the filmmakers to ram this young man’s story down our throats.
Nothing in the film rings true, nothing engages us, nothing captures the enormity of Alexander’s physical achievements, and his personal demons are shadowy.
Perhaps today’s filmmakers have too many gadgets and digital tools at their disposal, which tempts them away from the crucial, personal and intimate details that build up a character on screen. Perhaps replicating a giant army in a huge desert actually doesn’t convey its reality as well as old fashioned tricks might have done.
But above all, it’s the loss of clarity in story telling that robs Alexander of its appeal. However, the enormity of the undertaking, the sincerity of all concerned, the difficulty of the task and the complexity of the logistics are deserving of respect. Certainly, Oliver Stone must have been proud of it; as the end titles begin, we see ‘Directed by Oliver Stone’ and after the principal credits, we see the possessive version, ‘An Oliver Stone film.’
Review by Louise Keller:
As a mythical hero, Alexander is fascinating, but Oliver Stone’s ambitious epic borders on tedium as historic fact overshadow storytelling, leaving us unconnected. There are many elements that make this a captivating story, and Stone’s passion in bringing Alexander to the screen is quite apparent. We get a sense of the times with striking locations, lavish Grecian style costumes, primitive weaponry and large-scale bloody battles. But rather than opting for a Gladiator-like treatment, Stone has elected to develop the emotional vulnerability of the Greek warrior, concentrating on the suffocating relationship with his ambitious mother, and his all-important homosexual liaisons. These parts of the film have dynamic at least, and are far more successful than the numerous battle scenes that are often repetitive.
I’m not sure whether it is Colin Farrell’s blond wig that bothers me most, or whether Stone’s decision to make most of the cast speak in an Irish-brogue to match Farrell’s accent. Either way, these are distractions, and I am still wondering about the origin of Angelina Jolie’s Eastern-accent. Jolie looks amazing and is mesmerising as Alexander’s sorceress mother Olympias, who keeps pythons in the bedroom and teaches her son the pitfalls of hesitation. The scenes between Farrell and Jolie are electric and we are filled with a mix of fascination and revulsion as their push-pull relationship screams at a high pitch. Val Kilmer as the one-eyed king is horrifyingly effective, instilling in the young Alexander that women are far more dangerous than men. And although Alexander marries voluptuous Rosario Dawson’s Roxane, his heart belongs to Jared Leto’s battle commander Hephaistion.
Alexander was a courageous Greek warrior, explorer and idealist who never lost in battle and spent his life aspiring to tread in the glorious footsteps of his mythological hero Achilles. He amassed a massive empire as he led his armies in 150 bloody battles from his homeland of Macedonia through countries that included Libya, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan and India. Before a battle, Alexander prayed to the God of Fear, driving his men beyond endurance. He died at the age of 32, probably of poison. Stone’s collaboration with an Oxford University historian and biographer might have grounded his story in fact, but objectivity becomes lost and so do we, in this disappointing saga that could have been a spectacle to remember.
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CAST: Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer
PRODUCER: Moritz Borman, John Kilik, Thomas Schuhly, Iain Smith, Oliver Stone
DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone
SCRIPT: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: Yann Herve, Gladys Joujou, Alex Marquez, Thomas J. Nordberg
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jan Roelfs
RUNNING TIME: 175 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 20, 2005