Despite the critical mauling it received, I was genuinely looking forward to finally watching Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Not only am I a big Oliver Stone fan in general but secondly I’m also a sucker for a good historical epic. Somehow though I’d never gotten round to watching Stone’s biopic of Alexander The Great and I felt it was high time I rectified this.
A bit of internet research informed me that while the theatrical cut was poorly received and the later director’s cut slightly less so, it was the all-singing, all-dancing ‘Alexander Revisited’ which deserved my attention. This was Stone’s final attempt at delivering his finalised vision for the film, a near four hour effort complete with David Lean-esque intermission.
I got the Blu-Ray and settled in for an evening’s viewing.
From here, it all slowly (and boy, do I mean slowly) began to unravel. I really wanted to like this film, my love of Stone and penchant for overly long ‘swords and sandals’ sagas ensured I went in with a fully open mind, but the end result was every bit as disappointing as the critics had suggested.
Despite a near four hour run time, the story still seems to be trying to cram too much in. Alexander the Great did a lot in his short time on this planet, and Stone rather foolishly tries to fit it all in. Yet even something as exciting as a master military commander leading his army across the known world and conquering all before him can be boring when you see just two so-so battle scenes and fill the rest of the time with Alexander and his army frolicking and pontificating over whether they should go home. I’d say 75% of this film is spent with Alexander and his generals having extremely melodramatic debates about whether they should return to their homeland. Surely there’s something more cinematically interesting to be showing us?
Every conversation is said in an extremely earnest manner, almost as if the actor delivering it is also auditioning for a Shakespearean play at the same time. Stone was clearly wanting to make a deadly serious and dramatic biopic, but it’s almost like he went too far with it and packed in far too much wordy exposition rather than actually showing us any events. There is a lot of scenes with men, women and men/women standing around and debating, which is fine in small doses, but for four hours it gets a little repetitive.
Other than Colin Farrell’s Alexander, the mass of other characters never really gets much in the way of development. Good luck trying to learn each of their names by the way. They are barely ever mentioned and when they do its said at breakneck speed and assume you already know your Crateros from your Cleitus. If you weren’t referring to them as ‘the hound from Game of Thrones’ or ‘the one with the ridiculously well-kempt black hair’, then you’re a far more observant viewer than I. These characters trudge around after Alexander, argue with him a bit, scowl and then fade back into the background. The effect of which is that you never really care for them or understand their motivations.
Farrell is fine in the lead role, nothing particularly extraordinary, but nothing especially disastrous either. He suffers as much as everyone else with the woeful dialogue he is forced to deliver but he does at least convince as an inspiring leader of men. The portrayal of Alexander as a bi-sexual, immaculately coiffed and eye-liner wearing character did not go down well in his native Greece, but credit to Stone and Farrell for not holding back in delivering a n Alexander that is arguably fully in-line with the sexual practices of the time (as is my very basic understanding of Greek history. Apologies if I’m a million miles off the mark here). Meanwhile both Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie have fairly thankless roles as Alexander’s parents and have little to do other than fill stereotypes whenever they are onscreen. Val gives plenty of generic drunken oaf and Jolie pouts and smoulders, smoulders and pouts, as much as she possibly can.
Then there are the accents. Now, obviously, they aren’t all going to be speaking ancient Greek, but some consistency would be nice. We get Irish, Scottish, English, even the odd dash of American thrown into the mix…..whereas Angelina Jolie is seemingly doing ‘generic mysterious Mediterranean accent #4’. I realise this is the least of the film’s worries, but I felt it was distracting enough to be worth pointing out.
Stone is a proven quality director, the man made Platoon and JFK lest we forget, he is no fool. However even basic artistic decisions, like having the footage turn crimson for a good ten minutes after Alexander is stabbed in battle, is just a massive misfire. It looks woeful and ruins what was, I imagine a fairly expensive battle sequence. Speaking of which, as I mentioned earlier, there are only two battle sequences in this movie, both of which are fairly disappointing. The early battle against the far larger Persian army may win points for authenticity thanks to the almost blinding sand storm that gets kicked up by the rumpus, but it doesn’t really help make the events any clearer to follow. If it wasn’t for on-screen titles telling us we are watching “Macedonian Left Flank’ I really wouldn’t have known what was going on.
Ultimately, the biggest criticism I can level at the film is that it is just plain boring. I am basically the target audience for this movie, hell; I quite liked the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven, I’m that guy. However Alexander made Kingdom of Heaven look like cinematic dynamite. It plods along and never really says a great deal other than “look how far he trudged” and “look how sick of trudging his men were”.
I doff my cap to Stone for his efforts. It really is a glorious failure. He aimed incredibly high and missed terribly. There’s a fitting quote at the end of the film when Anthony Hopkins (didn’t catch his character name and choose not to look it up) says “his failures tower over other’s successes”. It’s perhaps a little hyperbolic to relate this quote about Alexander to Stone, but it certainly rings slightly true in the case of such an audacious failure that will undoubtedly go down in history, if unfortunately for the wrong reasons.
Alexander Revisited, never before has it taken so long to say so little about so much.