“There is no glory without suffering. Greatness must be earned.” According to Oliver Stone’s latest film, this is one of the lessons Alexander the Great supposedly learned when he was young. But within half an hour, this movie has a young Alexander taming an unrideable wild horse. Can he tame it because of his hard work — his years of experience mucking stables and birthing colts? Of course not. He tames it because the screenwriter says he can. It’s magic. Alexander doesn’t earn the horse. He just gets it.
Unfortunately for Oliver Stone, there is no magical screenwriter in the sky that can pen the perfect audience reaction to his latest film. Alexander wants to be great. It wants to be an epic. But it doesn’t earn the right to be three hours long.
R for sex 'n violence
Colin Farrell plays the title character, the Macedonian general who united the Mediterranean and western parts of Asia into a great empire. As told to scribes by Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), Alexander’s empire was “an empire of the mind.” It’s not clear what he means by this. Perhaps it refers to Alexander’s habit of leaving the locals in charge of a conquered area on his behalf. Becoming another “Alexandria” was easier than rebelling. In any case, it’s just another concept looking in vain for solid footing in this mess of a movie.
The movie doesn’t focus entirely on imperial conquests. It spends as much time on Alexander’s love life, his parents, and his troubled soul. Alexander is depicted as homosexual. And not matter-of-factly, but with a sort of flouncy, decadent, adolescent passion calculated to piss off red-state Americans. His mother (Angelina Jolie) is a two-dimensional caricature of the scheming, ambitious woman whose lust for power is channeled through her son. We first meet his father (Val Kilmer) as a one-eyed drunk trying to rape his wife, although it’s not clear what Stone’s point is — dad is cruel and impulsive, but these traits disappear once we get to know him. And throughout the film, Alexander mopes about his problems in private, while publicly trying, never quite succeeding, to put on a brave face — hardly the qualities of a charismatic leader.
The trouble with Alexander is that it’s boring. It’s aimless. It drifts from scene to scene without ever building to something bigger. It shows us Alexander, but it doesn’t give us a point of view. Why does he inspire loyalty? Why does he fail? Why was director Oliver Stone compelled to make this movie? A movie that answered any of these questions would be moving and thought-provoking. This film is neither.
Alexander’s story is broken up with footage of Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy telling the story, but it is never clear what the narration is supposed to add, other than an excuse to include Anthony Hopkins in the credits. Maybe the idea is to convey historical authenticity, to show that what we know of Alexander comes second-hand. But historical accuracy seems to be a matter of convenience. I’ve already received several junk e-mails regarding ethnic Macedonian objections to the film.
In the end, there isn’t much good to say about Alexander. You probably won’t hate it because you probably will never feel strongly enough to hate it. Alexander is neither inspiring or moving.
But at least it’s three hours long.