Review Date: 11.30.04
I almost wish I hadn’t read the production notes for “Alexander”, the big budget blockbuster written and directed by Oliver Stone. It was easier to flat out dislike it before I read the story of how it was made.
To realize how much care and passion went into its making, to learn that this film has been Stone’s life-long dream, to discover how hard he worked to bring the dream to fruition – none of that makes the movie a whit better. But it elevates what might be seen as merely a cinematic disaster into the status of near tragedy, at least insofar as one can commiserate with Stone and his intentions. Given the subject matter, and the epoch which it depicts, tragedy is certainly preferable to more plebeian words, like ‘utter failure’.
Unless you’ve just returned from a months long retreat in a secluded cave, you know that Stone’s movie is an attempt to tell the story of the truly legendary Alexander The Great, the very young man who conquered a big chunk of the world and named a heaping handful of cities after himself.
Stone has a penchant for tackling big events, and for portraying outsized personalities. Contemporary heroes, stars and villains don’t awe or intimidate him. But it would appear that Alexander, 2300 hundred year old super-hero, has. Or perhaps it’s that Stone so immersed himself in attempting to recreate the particulars of Alexander’s world, he forgot that in the end every film’s credibility is dependent on the authenticity of its characters.
Oddly enough, there’s not even one convincing performance in “Alexander”, least of all, Alexander himself. Fine actors are miscast. For instance, we’re supposed to buy Angelina Jolie as Alexander’s mother. Maybe when Alexander is four, but not when he’s a teenager, and certainly not when he’s a buffed-up 24 year old. Not even a voice over by Anthony Hopkins, as the world weary Ptolemy, is effective.
I’ve enjoyed Colin Farrell’s work before. He’s good at being coolly intense. But as Alexander, he’s a dud. It’s probably Stone’s fault, more than Farrell’s. Stone’s idea of Alexander seems to be that he was simultaneously introspective yet full of certitude. I don’t see how an actor can be both. These are more or less mutually exclusive qualities in the human animal. The contradiction erases any trace of charisma from Farrell’s face. More often than not, he looks quite befuddled.
The sets are often astonishing and several battle scenes are spectacular to watch. But the film’s few successes are overwhelmed by bad writing, unbelievable performances and myopic directing.
You may feel compelled, by nature of the subject matter, to see this film. If so, note the accents. A majority of the men sound Irish, even Val Kilmer, an American portraying an ancient Macedonian. Others sound British, and one, unmistakably Scottish. And the women sound like Americans doing bad imitations of a Russian accent. I laughed, but I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to.
Perhaps Stone was so immersed that he forgot to step back, forgot the distancing that enables an artist to see the big picture. The result is that his film is a great distance from his intention. And that’s sad for all of us.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.