To paraphrase the obnoxious David Spade, I liked Alexander a lot… when it was called Troy.
In fact, Oliver Stone’s overblown biopic detailing the global conquests of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) would make a nice bookend to Wolfgang Petersen’s lopsided sword-and-sandal epic. One day you’ll be able to tap Netflix for the two titles and combine them for a battle-worthy double feature. You’ll only need an entire weekend to wrap it up.
In the film, Alexander (Colin Farrell), the bastard son of Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer), becomes king of the known world by age 25. Starting in Greece, the insatiable scourge moves his devoted army east, swallowing up new lands and cultures like Fear Factor contestants swallow cow eyeballs. Rarely satisfied by combat or carnal knowledge, Alexander splits his devotions between an Asian wife (a surprisingly lifeless Rosario Dawson) and his male lover Hephaestion (a not-so-surprisingly lifeless Jared Leto). Meanwhile, back home in Macedonia, Alexander’s mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) begs like a leech to be part of her son’s growing kingdom.
By chronicling the Greek ruler’s military training and gradual empire spreading through Asia, Stone’s Alexander can be exotic, erotic, and elongated past the point of consideration. Blood flows (and flows) but the proceedings are far from memorable. Everything simply seems big, from Stone’s grandiose set pieces to the elaborate but poorly executed battle sequences. Even the ample score by a pulled-back-into-the-limelight Vangelis (Blade Runner), suggests a grandeur this film hardly ever earns. It’s a big misfire, a big bore, and a big fat waste of time.
Beyond the desire to recreate history, Stone frequently has been attracted to power figures who ascend to their thrones rather quickly, then fight to maintain their positions. Alexander is no different, and like Stone’s stabs at American history (JFK, Nixon), the director’s passion for his subject gives way to dramatic excess, leading to overwrought pomp crushed by its own weight and lack of accomplishment.
Alexander’s humanitarian efforts (connect the lands to benefit the people) are lost in Stone’s portrayal of ruler-as-rock star. Which, of course, make Farrell a great choice to play the lead. The actor’s own ego-fueled swagger actually helps his Alexander. We believe he’s passionate enough to inspire an army, and he’s a natural when it comes to enjoying the spoils of victory. Stone’s costume designer eventually lets Farrell down, though, as Alexander evolves into a drunken Jeff Spicoli in India, then morphs into a feather-coifed Sebastian Bach from Skid Row by the time he returns to Babylon.
Stone’s supporting cast, though, desperately tries to match the director’s vast vision with bombastic bouts of overacting. Kilmer, with his eye sealed shut, channels the late Jim Morrison as if he were still playing the Lizard King on the set of Stone’s The Doors. Jolie goes so far beyond vamp that she reaches vampire, soaking every line with a Transylvanian accent. It’s laughable. A friend asked me on the way out to name Stone’s last good film. I couldn’t. If Alexander signals the end for the once-maverick filmmaker, at least he went out with a bang.
Stone gives Alexander another go in a 2007 director’s cut, a 3 1/2 hour monstrosity that adds in even more footage, rearranges the order of numerous scenes, and feels like it takes a week to watch all the way through. Is it any better? Well, Stone notes in his introduction that if you hated the original, you’ll hate Alexander Revisited even more.
Take us to that awesome rave they had in The Matrix!