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With: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto
Written by: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
Directed by: Oliver Stone
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 175
Date: 11/16/2004

Alexander (2004)

1 Star (out of 4)

Babylon and On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Absent from the big screen for more than 4 years, Oliver Stone (Platoon, Nixon), that hysterical historian of the paranoid 20th century, returns with his first costume epic. For Alexander he travels back to 300 BC and the result is a colossal disaster that might well be Stone's own personal Watergate.

It's doubtful, though. Years ago Warner Brothers awarded him a carte-blanche contract similar to Stanley Kubrick's so that Stone can make whatever he wants. Even if Alexander pulls in one one-hundredth of its budget, Stone will no doubt be back.

Stone has spent his career hoodwinking financiers into thinking that he's an "important" filmmaker. With the exception of his directorial debut, a forgettable horror film called Seizure, Stone has dabbled in wars, biographies and sociopolitical statements worthy of an off-the-wall History Channel.

As a stylist, Stone never makes the choice between "not enough" and "too much." He always races headlong toward the latter, stuck in high gear. His films are lurid, explosive, operatic and flamboyant, but never bland or boring -- until now.

To break it down, Stone's dreadfully dull epic consists of about 10% battle scenes and about 90% dialogue. The battle scenes jump and rattle around making little sense. Stone has failed to clearly capture chaos, and instead has chaotically filmed a mess. After one battle, it's up to the narrator to inform us what has happened because the scene itself has completely failed.

As for the dialogue, the film starts off almost immediately with a long speech by our narrator, the aged Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), and consists of expository information: names, dates and places, many of which sound the same. It's like being in school, pinned down by a monotone teacher; most of the movie gives off an almost irresistible urge to nap.

Very often Alexander himself (played by Colin Farrell, who died his hair blond but kept his Irish accent) will mount a hilltop and explain to his troops what has just happened, how tough the battle was, and where they're going next. The musical score, by Vangelis, rises and thunders behind him as if to illustrate how dramatic it all is. Sometimes the music literally drowns out the dialogue, which is probably a good thing.

This clumsy storytelling results in very little. If you go in with absolutely no idea of the story of Alexander the Great, you will leave this film knowing about the same as when you came in. If the viewer does know something of this story, the film will frustrate with its misguided leaps in logic.

Along the way, we come to understand that Alexander traveled a great distance over many years conquering new lands. But why he does this and how it affects the known world is never made clear, even through the lengthy, wordy explanations.

It's possible that the most optimistic viewers will find camp value from among the film's rubble. Angelina Jolie plays Alexander's mother Olympias, and she's magnificent in the way that Ricardo Montalban was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. She purrs and snarls through a wild, rolling accent and is constantly covered with live snakes.

The film also has an obvious, but very tame, gay subtext. Alexander often exchanges smoldering glances with the prettiest of his men, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), and they sequester themselves in bedrooms and tents, vowing that they'll never leave each other. Sometimes they even hug!

At the same time, Alexander marries a Persian princess (Rosario Dawson) and the movie dishes out one of its biggest laughs as she enters a room and spies Hephaistion giving a fancy ring to Alexander. "Are you weeth heem?" she attempts in a crazed accent before getting down to a hilarious lovemaking scene in which the participants roar at each other like playground lions.

Perhaps the movie is best summed up by one of its own lines of dialogue. In an attempt to reveal a kind of ancient conspiracy theory, our narrator suggests that Alexander's own men killed him, then retracts the statement with: "Throw all that away -- it's an old fool's rubbish."

DVD Details: Warner Home Video has released Alexander in a DVD "director's cut," but it's apparently only a couple of minutes different, and no amount of minor tweaking could save this disaster. (According to, the film cost $155 million and grossed $34 million; however, it was a huge hit overseas and made its money back!) Three different cuts have emerged: I saw the 175-minute theatrical cut, then Stone turned in a shorter, 167-minute "director's cut" and a longer 207-minute "final cut."

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