Alexander is a deeply disappointing movie experience, a colossal failure for Oliver Stone and a cinematic disaster absolutely on par with the worst movies of the year. It’s comfortable in a class with crap made by the Olsen twins or that quickly forgotten motorcycle acid trip Torque. The difference between Alexander and those movies is a huge budget, a big name cast, and a supposedly revered director, which perhaps only makes the stink of the film’s bloating corpse all the more pungent.
The movie is the retelling of the life of one of history’s most imposing figures. Before his early death at the young age of thirty two, Greek king Alexander (Colin Farrell) had conquered nearly all the known world, and a lot of it that wasn’t known until he sought it out and attacked it. Surely there must be a great story in there somewhere. If there is one, after watching director Oliver Stone’s attempt to find it, I still haven’t seen it. His Alexander opens with an old man’s meandering narration, immediately setting his movie’s tone as that of a cheap “700 Club” Bible drama. The narrator (Anthony Hopkins) is one of Alexander’s former Generals, though for some reason we’re never actually told which one. He babbles endlessly about what a great guy Alex was, and then we flash back to an interminable tour through Alexander’s Greco (no Roman) wrestling youth. The movie languishes there for longer than I cared to spend, and after thirty minutes of curly blonde-haired youthful enthusiasm I found myself praying for a montage. Stone rejects the relief of such conventions, and plods ahead dragging out speech after long winded speech, eventually stumbling rather haphazardly into Alexander’s adulthood, which happens overnight.
The transition to Alexander’s years as ruler is abrupt, with very little explanation beyond more ramblings from our doddering narrator. One moment he’s being thrown out of the kingdom by his father, the next he’s the king and leading troops to a massive and extremely dusty battlefield on the eve of one of his greatest victories, the capture of Babylon. The movie crawls along that way for all told 173 minutes of mind-numbing cinematic hell as the Greeks are shown in flashes of walking interspersed with our narrator telling us they won great battles, and occasionally pausing so that either Alexander or one of his soldiers can make an excessively long speech. The Greek army travels all the way to India like that, talking and walking, eventually ending up at the film’s only other action sequence, an uninspiring battle in which Stone somehow makes fighting elephants exceptionally boring. Perhaps elephant fighting has just been permanently spoiled for me by the grandiose mind of Peter Jackson.
In short, there’s not much character development or story here. Substituted are longing glances between Alexander and his friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto), whom we are told repeatedly King Alex loves. Not in a friendly way, in a romantic hop in my bed way. Leto spends much of the film done up to look like a wet hippie, while Stone makes a good case for gays in the military. That the two are romantically involved is blatantly obvious, but the film seems scared to death to show them kissing or actually getting naked. Instead we’re back to that narrator fellow who insists that they’re each other’s soul mate since obviously Stone is too inept or afraid to get down to showing it. At some point Jared Leto’s faux-feminine performance simply becomes annoying, as do their furtively longing glances. Stone is a homosexual cock tease who ought to quit spending so much time beating us over the head with his characters homosexuality if he’s never going to really put it on display. It’s a ridiculous game that insults the historical fact behind the people whose story he’s telling as well as the intelligence of his extremely bored audience.
In short, Alexander has a terminal case of telling instead of showing. Stone is incapable of getting his point across through his story and so simply throws a bunch of images and speeches on screen and then must resort to incessant narration to connect them into a plot. Lost is any understanding of what really drove Alexander, beyond what could probably have been learned by reading an Oliver Stone written essay on the subject. Gone is anything of entertainment value as well, since the film is incredibly long and populated with only two very mundane action sequences. One is so coated in dust you don’t really know what is happening, the other shot with a shaky cam and slathered in a thick tint of red to hide anything that might be interesting. Oh Mr. Narrator talks a lot about Alexander’s march of conquest, but all we see are a few speeches on muddy rivers where Alexander preaches to his men like Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.
Even Stone’s actors are a total failure, starting with their accents which range between varying shades of ridiculous and confusing. I’ve always thought it a little silly to have actors speaking English in a foreign accent as a substitute for speaking the language which their characters really would have spoken. I’m fine with simply throwing out those accents altogether and having your cast speak as they normally would, or I’m fine with having them attempt some sort of Greek accent appropriate to the time if not the on screen spoken language. But pick ONE! Colin Farrell speaks with what is basically his usual Irish cackle, Anthony Hopkins with his normal English flair. Val Kilmer sounds like any good American or whatever he is should. But then Rosario Dawson puts on some sort of weird Asian affectation. Angelina Jolie sounds like a cranky old Greek witch. Half of the soliders sound Scottish. Half of them are doing weird Italian impressions. One or two warriors put in an attempt at appalling Greek caricatures. What the heck was Stone thinking?
In the end though, I suppose how the words coming out of their mouth sound is irrelevant, since the dialogue is laughable and their performances, with or without vocal confusion are generally appalling. The exception is the film’s one bright spot, Val Kilmer as Alexander’s father Phillip. He puts on a masterful show of barbarism and gentle kingship. His Phillip repeatedly steals the spotlight from Farrell, and does so with relatively little screen time. His moments were the only ones I found remotely bearable, and it’s a shame that there isn’t some way to pull Phillip out of the movie and give his much more interesting story life.
Kilmer’s efforts though are akin to bailing out a battleship with a thimble. Alexander is an unripe turd, though no doubt Stone apologists have already started making excuses for it. Cutting an hour or so off the movie might have helped, but only because it’d mean you can get out of the theater and out to your car sooner. Not that some strange need to wait for the closing credits should stop you from escaping to your Honda. I predict that Alexander’s one achievement will be as the most walked out on movie of the year. Around the 60 minute mark I started to realize that life was too short to sit through another 113 minutes. I had to stay stuck in my seat, but there’s no need for all of you to. Stay far away from Alexander, but if you don’t, know there’s no shame in walking out. You’ll blend right in with the rest of the escaping crowds.