2006-03-30 12:48


Though he has been dead for over 2,000 years Alexander the Great remains one of history's most influential figures. By the age of 25, this Macedonian king had conquered most of the known world and built an empire that stretched across two continents. The scale and depth of the changes he wrought upon the ancient civilisations around him was so great that the effects are still felt today, particularly in the Middle East. Oliver Stone's film traces the great conqueror's life from his early boyhood until his untimely death at age 32.


The story of Alexander the Great, one of the richest and most spectacular true stories in history, has been largely ignored by the last 30 years of mainstream filmmakers. So when I heard that Oliver Stone, a true master of modern film, was making a movie about the great conqueror I was naturally excited. Tragically "Alexander" is one of my biggest disappointments of 2004.

I could easily have ignored the movie's minor irritations - like the dumbfounding choice to have most of the cast speak in pronounced Irish and Scottish accents - but the movie's utter lack of focus is unforgivable. A film with nearly three hours of screen time needs a strong central narrative to drive it forward. Instead Stone (who co-wrote the script) flits from scene to scene, changing gear rapidly from historical epic to intimate portrait to tragic love story. Combined with some appallingly stilted and wordy dialogue, you soon have a film that is a strain to follow. This sort of strain might be acceptable in a 90-minute thriller, where the audience can enjoy figuring out the movie's twist, but in a three-hour historical epic it is simply tiring.

Yet "Alexander" might still have been rescued by an utterly compelling lead role - a charismatic powerhouse to anchor this woolly project and give it some guts. Alas Colin Farrell, for all his animal magnetism, is just not cut out for the job. Even with a flawless script he would still drown in the demands of the role, like a teenager flopping about in a grown man's suit. He spends most of the movie with a puzzled, slightly hurt expression that seems to stand for every emotion from anger to determination to anguish to longing. I think Farrell has all the makings of a fine leading man, but he is out of his depth here, and appears to be getting no help from his director.

The rest of the impressive cast give solid if ordinary performances, but without a central axis on which to turn their efforts are largely wasted. Angelina Jolie stands out as Alexander's scheming mother, Olympias, but this is more due to her luscious good looks and her vampire countess accent (by far the silliest in the film), than to her performance. Val Kilmer plays Alexander's drunken bully of a father Philip, and appears to be on autopilot for most of the role.

One positive aspect of the film is the breathtaking visual beauty of many of the scenes. Stone is an absolute master with the camera and his cinematographers and art directors stretch their craft to the maximum in lavish battle scenes and intricately crafted interiors. Sadly these jewels are lost amidst the misdirected fluff and padding.

For all their visual beauty, the two main battle scenes are ultimately disappointing. Instead of rousing or exciting us, Stone holds us at arms length, showing off his incredible attention to detail instead of pulling us into the moment. The depths to which he is willing to go for the sake of accuracy will probably impress history buffs, but exact details are not going to fire up most fans of epic battle scenes. If you're expecting "Gladiator" style thrills, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Even the lukewarm costume drama "Troy" has more visceral appeal.

To his credit Oliver Stone could never be accused of laziness or penny pinching. "Alexander" is obviously the product of vast amounts of money, love, sweat and tears. He is also innocent of politically correct cow-towing, never hesitating to explore sensitive topics like Alexander's bi-sexuality or his often senseless caprice. Stone is not out to re-create the legend - he is out to rediscover the man. But he forgets that he is rediscovering this man for the benefit of his audience, and not just to please himself.

- Alistair Fairweather

This utterly self-indulgent epic about the ancient world's greatest warrior quickly becomes a strain to watch. Shackled by a bad script, silly accents and an obsession with minor details, the film loses it coherence and, eventually, its audience.

Jacqui 2004/12/22 9:52 AM
Alexander A true test of one's endurance and staying power to remain within the cinema until the end! Disappointing and drawn out. Not what one would expect from the likes of Oliver Stone. The Irish Accents (took me a while to determine the dialect) are superficial and the constant jumps from 'past-to-present' gets confusing. Alexander is portrayed in an ill light and that was reflected by the occasional laughter from the audience within the cinema.
George-Gabriel 2004/12/27 7:53 PM
Holistic Healer I agree with you. A disappointment. Saw it at the Privee at Monecasino, and either the soundtrack was bad or the equipment, at times it almost sounded mono with excessive base. Accents, dialogue, script, EDITING, camera work, acting, bad historical timing, all unacceptable for this type of film. Does not even come close to Troy, Braveheart or The Gladiator! At times I seriously thought I would have done so much better directing and camera angles myself!!! Indigo (wait for this when it comes in 2005!!!)Troy, Gladiator, Braveheart, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams
Merle 2004/12/28 10:34 AM
Alexander lost the plot... a strain to watch Jersey Girl
Omar Hartley 2005/01/06 9:03 PM
One of the worse movies EVER!! Battlefield Earth was better than this load of hogwash. This movie left me feeling annoyed and largely frustrated. I hated it! anything but Alexander.
Andre 2005/02/18 9:04 AM
First prize for the worst movie of the year Without doubt, the worst non-focused, self indulgent movie I ever saw. Or at least the part of it that I watched before I walked out. I had such high expectations of this epic tale being
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