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. Itís 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 filmís bloating corpse all the more pungent.
The movie is the retelling of the life of one of historyís 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 wasnít 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 Stoneís attempt to find it, I still havenít seen it. His Alexander opens with an old manís meandering narration, immediately setting his movieís tone as that of a cheap ď700 ClubĒ Bible drama. The narrator (Anthony Hopkins) is one of Alexanderís former Generals, though for some reason weíre 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 Alexanderís 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 Alexanderís adulthood, which happens overnight.
The transition to Alexanderís years as ruler is abrupt, with very little explanation beyond more ramblings from our doddering narrator. One moment heís being thrown out of the kingdom by his father, the next heís 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 filmís 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, thereís 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 weíre back to that narrator fellow who insists that theyíre each otherís soul mate since obviously Stone is too inept or afraid to get down to showing it. At some point Jared Letoís 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 heís never going to really put it on display. Itís a ridiculous game that insults the historical fact behind the people whose story heís 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 donít 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 Alexanderís 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 Stoneís actors are a total failure, starting with their accents which range between varying shades of ridiculous and confusing. Iíve 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. Iím fine with simply throwing out those accents altogether and having your cast speak as they normally would, or Iím 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 filmís one bright spot, Val Kilmer as Alexanderís 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 itís a shame that there isnít some way to pull Phillip out of the movie and give his much more interesting story life.
Kilmerís 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 itíd 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 Alexanderís 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 thereís no need for all of you to. Stay far away from Alexander, but if you donít, know thereís no shame in walking out. Youíll blend right in with the rest of the escaping crowds.
Reviewed By: Joshua Tyler