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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Alexander (review)

Classic Blunder

Still bitter after the recent election, I’d love to have been able to go into a ranting exploration of the delicious commentary to be found in Alexander: the arrogant tyrant bringing “freedom” to the peoples of Persia, the “hard guerilla war” that results, the whole classic-blunder thing about never getting involved in a land war in Asia, the irony of how we’re still fighting over this patch of dusty desert thousands of years later. And how, yeah, nothing’s changed: everyone still thinks Zeus is on their side.
I’d love to, but I can’t, cuz I spent most of Alexander squirming, checking my watch, and occasionally busting out in derisive guffaws. Oliver Stone has perhaps finally gone round the bend: this is a disaster of a film, three hours of butt-numbing tedium punctuated by moments of hilarious high camp. Most of those come in the scenes between Colin Farrell, as the boy conqueror, and Angelina Jolie, who plays his mother, Olympias, which would be offensive — she’s a mere year older than him — if everything else about her weren’t even more patently ridiculous. She vamps it up as a kind of Classical psycho mommy dearest, draped in slinky togas with snakes slithering around her arms and legs, a witch with serpentine familiars. “You crazed woman!” he shouts at Mom in one scene, which is fairly typical of their conversations, which also feature pottery thrown around in mad fits, screaming in bad accents — he sounds precisely like an Irishman trying to sound vaguely Mediterranean; she sounds like a bride of Dracula — and spitting in each other’s faces.

Jolie (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Shark Tale) is always a walking catastrophe, frankly, but the absence of Farrell’s (S.W.A.T., Veronica Guerin) usual reliability and can’t-miss charisma is a mystery. Perhaps he’s simply overwhelmed by the material. The choppy script — by Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis — skips around in time in a way that renders it frequently incomprehensible. We can guess where we are in Alexander’s life, usually, by which bad blond wig Farrell is wearing: the goofy-cherub one for his pre-conqueror days, the Whitesnake-refugee one for the “the Great” years. But the wig thing doesn’t help when the film jumps from, say, “pampered boyish Alex who’s nothing but a toy for his mother” to “oh, hey, by the way, Alexander’s been out fighting for a few years and his father the king was assassinated and now Alex is in charge.” Say what? Could we maybe see some of the sorta important stuff that happened in between? Oh, eventually there’s a flashback of sorts that explains some of it, but by then it’s too late, and Colin Farrell has already channeled Shatner: Persia… Willbe… Mine! I’m not kidding.

Honestly, Alexander is a mess. Who is this old guy (Anthony Hopkins: The Human Stain, Bad Company) who’s narrating Alexander’s story from 40 years in the future? He acts like he was along for the eight-year trip to find the end of the world and vanquish it along the way, but which of the gang of virtually indistinguishable lieutenants and commanders hanging out with Alexander was he? How come we don’t get to enjoy any of the “light of Apollo” that apparently shone out Alexander’s ass or something, according to the Hopkins guy? Why does Olympias get to spit out imprecations like “In my womb I carried my avenger!” to hubby King Philip (Val Kilmer: Stateside, Spartan) when there’s no vengeance on tap? Just because it sounded cool? Why does Kilmer affect an Irish brogue when he’s pissed off, and why doesn’t he sing “I’m So Ronery” like he wants to? What’s with Aristotle’s (Christopher Plummer: National Treasure, Cold Creek Manor) little lecture about how enlightened homosexuality (that is, sans lust) is the key to conquest? Is that how Stone justifies not giving us any hot sex scenes with Farrell and Jared Leto (Panic Room, Requiem for a Dream) as his lover Hephaistion?

Ya gotta love it, I guess, that when Alexander enters the city of Babylon in triumph, there’s a moment that looks like a romantic perfume ad: Alexander on his chariot gazes dreamily into the distance looking so pretty with his blond locks and the shower of flower petals falling softly around him. The military genius as feminized sex object: he’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!

If only that was diverting enough to keep you occupied. Mostly, though, as Alexander seeks the end of the world, we’re just seeking the end of the movie.


MPAA: rated R for violence and some sexuality/nudity

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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