by Tony Medley
Alexander the Great as
Hamlet. At least that’s the way Writer-Director Oliver Stone sees it.
His Alexander (the normally brilliant Colin Farrell) cries at the drop
of a hat, constantly struggling with some inner dilemma. Here’s a guy
who conquered the world in eight years, yet he can’t keep a dry eye. To
give Colin credit, he does know how to cry real tears on cue.
His mother, Olympias
(Angelina Jolie, who gives as good a performance as anyone in the film), sleeps with snakes and urges young Alexander to
greatness. His father, one-eyed Philip (Val Kilmer), is drunk most of
the time and apparently can’t figure out if he loves Alexander or wants
him dead. He clearly doesn’t much like Olympias, to whom, according to
this, he wasn’t married, making Alexander a bad word.
There are a lot of bad words
in this stinker because Oliver’s script has the players making
long-winded speeches that sound as if they were penned by a Shakespeare
wannabe. Nobody ever talked like these people. The speeches sound like
blank verse without much verse. Even some of
their simple declarative sentences are fatuous. Examples:
Philip tells Alexander,
“Beware of women. They are more dangerous (than men).”
And, “A king must know how to
hurt the ones he loves.”
Worse, Oliver actually steals
a line directly from The Bard of Avon when he has Olympias tell
Alexander, “Beware of men who think too much.” That sounds suspiciously
similar to Julius Caesar telling Mark Antony,
“Yond Cassius has a
lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men
These lines epitomize one of
the worst scripts I’ve ever heard performed in a major movie. Consider:
Alexander has pretty much
conquered the known world and is embarking on a big battle in India. He
rallies his forces before the battle. For some reason, this new brand of
Hollywood filmmakers thinks that just before the battle every leader
gives a Knute Rockne-type speech to his army. Alexander does that in the
two big battles in this film, Gaugamela, when Alexander’s 40,000 man
army and 7,000 man cavalry defeated Persia’s 250,000 man army, and the
jungle battle against elephant-mounted natives in India. At the time of
Gaugamela, at the beginning of the film and the beginning of Alexander’s
triumphant march, he was basically untested. But by the time he reached
India, he was the most powerful man the world had ever seen. Yet Stone
has him plead with his army to go into battle. But the army argues back.
It’s like a democracy. The boss says, go into battle and the privates
and corporals and sergeants all say, “Wait a minute, Alex, we’ve
followed you this far but we want to go home to our wives and families,”
just an avalanche of kvetch. Alexander argues back. Back and forth they
go. Really? Some private or sergeant is going to speak up and challenge
the most powerful king the world has ever seen just before going into a
big battle? In a pig’s eye. It sounded more like Crossfire or
Monty Python than history’s greatest leader. This scene is beyond
In Platoon (1986),
Stone’s anti-American diatribe, he filmed one of the best battle
sequences I’ve ever seen when he has an officer call down artillery on
his own position. The film just showed chaos. That works once. He does
it in both major battles in this film. Although the chaos gets a little
tired, the battle of Gaugamela is well done. It goes on for at least 15
minutes, with aerial shots of the great armies maneuvering.
The responsibility for this
mess falls directly on the shoulders of writer-director Oliver Stone.
Give Forrest Gump a cast of Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher
Plummer, Angelina Jolie, and Val Kilmer with music by Vangelis and I
guarantee you he could come up with something better than this.
Stone blatantly portrays
Alexander as more homosexual than bisexual, in that he shows far more
interest in his lifelong friend, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), and his
horse, Bucephalas, than he does to any of the women around him,
including his first wife, Roxane (Rosario Dawson).
fact, Stone perpetuates Afghanistani stories about Roxane who is
described as a good Afghan girl and who, because her people had been
invaded by Alexander’s forces, secreted a knife under her pillow and
attempted to murder Alexander on their wedding night.
Since nobody could possibly know what occurred
between the two of them on their wedding night, lending credence to such
a bald, unsupported allegation is irresponsible, especially when you’re
telling a story of an historical personage that will be accepted as
gospel by a substantial part of the audience.
Despite the putrid script,
this three hour film is interesting, thanks to Alexander’s amazing story
and the exceptional cast who make the best of what they have to work
with. One thing I did like is that instead of casting some old man like
Tom Hanks as Alexander, Colin Farrell looks like a little boy leading
men. And that’s the way it really was because Alexander accomplished his
conquests before he was 25 years old.
Farrell is one of the best young actors of his generation. But nobody
could make the words the actors are forced to utter sound anything but
banal. The real Alexander the Great conquered the world. Oliver Stone’s
touchy-feely-weepy Alexander would be lucky to last three rounds against
November 18, 2004