Alexander the Great: Review

By Zia Morales, Athens News

Alexander the Great

About the cast Colin Farrell is the legendary conqueror, Alexander the Great. Constantly at his side is his solemate Hephaistion, played by the doeyed Jared Leto. Others are not free with the with the unconditional love – there is his domineering mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who will stop at nothing to make him king, his coarse father King Philip (Val Kilmer) and possessive wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) and Bucephalus the horse are some of the other famous names on parade.

About the film In Alexander's opening moments, Ptolemy gets right down to the business of putting his deceased commander on a pedestal: Alexander was like a god, a force of nature, a colossus. And now can someone of his pedigree be anything less? His mother Olympias, after all, claims he is descended from Achilles as well as Zues himself. His father may be undecided about passing on the crown to him and he is always losing to Hephaiston on the wrestling mat, but one young Alexander believes the hype. "One day, I'll be on walls like these," he declares, gazing at the paintings of Greek legends. When his father's assassination lands him on the throne, Alexander begins his campaign to be immortalized not just on walls, but also via marble busts. He chases his father's dream of extending the empire. The highlights: defeating King Darius III and the Persian hordes at Gaugamela, conquering Babylon and its free-loving denizens, reaching as far as India. The visionary idealist wants to rule the world, and will settle for nothing less than an empire where young "barbarians" receive the best in Greek military training, everyone is touched by the Hellenic values of freedom and enlightenment and there is unity in diversity. But xenophobia, intrigue and a growing tyrannical streak that has made enemies out of his loyalists threaten to curb his quest for world domination.

No seamless choreography here, director Oliver Stone's battlefield is a gritty quagmire of dust, blood and sweat. Heaving warriors stab blindly at their enemies before being speared through the gut. In the Guagamela scene, even Alexander's teeth are smeared with blood. The battle in India is another visual feat, a disorientating mess of stampeding elephants and fighters that is tinted red once Alexander is wounded. By combining sprawling eagle-eye shots, close-ups of warriors thundering into battle and reusing to flinch when things get nasty, Stone gives us fights that are visceral and, occasionally, stunning.

The actors strike jarringly different notes. With a weird Russian accent, Angelina Jolie puts in a campy turn that seems like an ironic statement alongside her more serious co-stars. Leto does little more than mumble and peer soulfully from behind his long lashes. Maintaining a straight face through the bad hairstyles (minor quibble: couldn't they at least have lightened his eyebrows to match his hair?) and clunky lines Farrell manages to coax some complexity out of the great conqueror. But he lacks the great hero's larger-than-life charisma. It doesn't help that Stone never fully brings the man out from behind the myth – Alexander is a kindly tyrant (isn't that an oxymoron?); his great love for Hephaistion is not explored in a way that resonates. Despite episodes of emotion-laden hysteria, Ptolemy's roll call of his awesome achievements and over two hours of screen-time, the conqueror remains as remote as his marble bust.

The writing is just as half-baked. The plot is muddled by an ill-timed flashback near the end of the movie and the characters bog things down with long-winded dialogue. When the film is finally comes to a close after several would-be-climaxes, it is a bit of a relief. Stone manages to achieve the inconceivable - turning a film about one of history's most fascinating men into a rather tedious affair.