Movie: Alexander

Our Rating: 1.50

Say what you will about Troy, but at least it was intermittently fun to watch. Oliver Stone's Greek salad Alexander, in contrast, is just an endurance test – a lugubrious, self-important history lesson that gives free rein to all of the director's worst qualities while admitting none of his artistic saving graces. Like the ability to tell a story or hold an audience's interest for more than three minutes at a time.

Somehow, the should-be-cinematic events of the immortal conqueror's life have been Cuisinarted into a static, talky, hopelessly choppy tale that keeps real excitement on hold for a seeming eternity – all so narrator Anthony Hopkins can deliver interminable speeches imploring us to see Alexander the Great as a man, not a god in sandals. Yet all the while Hopkins is preaching the rejection of idolatry, the floridity of his language (and the movie's precious tone) are accomplishing the exact opposite. At its root, the film is Stone's latest attempt to lionize a "complicated" male icon, putting ol' Alex squarely in the unlikely company of Jim Morrison and Tricky Dick.

It might even work, if not for the feckless performance of star Colin Farrell, a totally uninspiring portrait of a leader who ambles across the screen in a succession of ridiculous surfer-dude wigs, spouting half-hearted encouragements to his men as they prepare to lay siege to another prized foreign front. Self-doubt and sheepishness are the attributes he presents to the world, making us wonder how the defining victories of the era were won by such an innocuous dullard. You wouldn't follow this guy into a 7-Eleven after midnight, let alone into a battle with the Persians.

That gaping void of character makes it impossible to properly lose oneself in the story, which details Alexander's grand, eight-year quest to unify the red and blue states (or something). Instead, we're held hostage for two hours and 45 minutes as Stone indulges his peculiar preoccupations. There's mother hatred, in the person of Angelina Jolie's conniving, vengeful Olympias. There are thunderingly obvious animal metaphors, with all manner of reptiles, birds and mammals (and Val Kilmer) submitted as symbols for the betrayal and defeat that shadow Alexander at every turn. What there isn't is the mitigating master craft we used to expect from Stone, the bravura way with camera motion and pacing that made his myriad other sins forgivable.

Oh, and the much-discussed gay content is treated clumsily enough to forestall any true attempt at understanding. Instead, it just comes off as cheap, campy titillation – though it does represent a possible explanation for the misogyny that has dogged Stone's work and continues to do so. The fifth time he showed me Jolie cavorting with a snake, I started to suspect he was trying to tell me something.


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