Alexander the person was great. “Alexander” the movie is not.
It is a horrendously bad movie, a genuine 40-car pile-up of literally epic proportions, a three-way head-on collision of bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction. It is not just misguided, it is truly terrible in a way that is almost fascinating to watch. But not quite.
It begins with Anthony Hopkins as the aged Ptolemy, intoning the historical background for us. It’s true that Anthony Hopkins has a voice that could make the phone book mesmerizing. But the phone book would be an improvement over the turgid prose he is asked to slog through here. And he keeps coming back to tell us more; invariably throughout the next three hours we are told what we should be shown while we watch what we should have been told. Even with all of the narration and a fairly straightforward historical plotline, the narrative is frustratingly muddled.
Alexander (Colin Farrell) is the son of Philip (Val Kilmer) and Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and at the center of a firestorm of political intrigue and bitter personal feuds. His parents despise each other, and each urges Alexander to be bold and to trust no one. Alexander grows up to be very competitive but also sensitive. He tames the wild horse Bucephalus, gaining his father’s approval. But then Philip, who wants to make Olympias less powerful, takes another wife. He is about to name her infant son his successor when he is assassinated, making Alexander the king.
Alexander takes his armies on a quest to conquer the known world over eight years and 22,000 miles, and we finally get to the one watchable part of the movie. Writer/director Oliver Stone can stage a battle. The fights with the soldiers of Persia and India are striking and the confrontation between horse- and elephant-riders is exceptional.
But the rest of the movie is dreadful, a mish-mash of a clunker script delivered in a mish-mash of accents. It’s bad enough when one of the Greek soldiers speaks with the actor’s own Scottish burr. It is even worse when Roxane (Rosario Dawson), the wife Alexander choses from Bactria, uses the kind of faux all-purpose foreign pronunciation usually reserved for native maidens in 1940’s B-movies set on tropical islands. She sees him with Hephaestion (Jared Leto) and hisses “You love chhHEEEM!!”
The accents may be all over the place, but the Classic Comic-style dialogue is consistently terrible. No accent could make these lines work: “You must never confuse your feelings with your duties!” “Your life hangs in the balance!” “You can run to the ends of the earth, you coward, but you will never run far enough!” “We are most alone when we are with the myths.” “It was here that Alexander made one of his most mysterious decisions.” “They forgive you because you make them proud of themselves!” “What have I done to make you hate me so?” “You’re a king — act like one!” “I wouldn’t miss it for all the gold in the world!” “It’s easier to find the east than to find love.” “The dreamers destroy us. They must die before they can kill us with their blasted dreams.”
The script is way, way, way over the top and the acting is wildly over-heated, with moments that give
The classroom discussions of higher love between men and the longing glances and meaningful exchanges between Alexander and Hephaestion play like a soap opera written by middle schoolers.
Perhaps most disappointing of all is that there is not one performance with any authenticity or appeal. Even Farrell and Jolie lose all sense of perspective and resort to snorts and eye-rolling histrionics.
All of this is further weighed down by pacing that manages to be both slow and choppy. A flashback of Philip’s death is awkwardly inserted at a point that feels entirely random. There are too-frequent and heavy-handed symbols: caged beasts and a soaring eagle. We get it, we get it.
Ultimately, “Alexander” is the story of hubris. In this case, however, it is not the hubris of the young king who wanted to conquer the world, but the hubris of a writer-director who tried to tell the story and threw everything into it he could think of — including an indefensible rip-off of the opening of
Parents should know that the movie has extreme and explicit battle violence with many impalings and other graphic injuries. Alexander is portrayed as bi-sexual. There are very explicit heterosexual sexual situations and references and male and female nudity, plus references and implications of gay sex and some same-sex kissing and a mother-son kiss on the mouth and an attempted rape. Some exotic dancers perform in skimpy attire. Characters drink, sometimes to excess.
Families who see this movie should talk about Alexander’s influences. What did he learn from his father and what did he learn from his mother? Why did he marry Roxane? What was most important to him? What is best remembered about him? Why?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the much better