Alexander directed by Oliver Stone, written by Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis, produced by Moritz Borman, Jon Kilik, Thomas Schühly, Iain Smith and Stone, with Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson and Jared Leto. 176 minutes. An Intermedia Production, A Warner Brothers release. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Veteran Hollywood directors - Oliver Stone, Wolfgang Petersen, Martin Scorsese - are all returning to the epic.
It occurs to me that once directors achieve a certain level of success sustained over a period of years, they turn to the ancient world for a reason. They've reached a point where they're no longer really sure how life is lived in the modern world. Their wealth and fame insulate them from a lot of the vagaries of day-to-day life.
Oliver Stone's never been a great exemplar of realism in cinema, but a lot of his filmography deals with worlds he's experienced directly, like the three Vietnam films, naturally, and The Doors and his two big political films, Nixon and JFK.
He's spent the five years since Any Given Sunday, a film that has almost nothing in common with real life as lived by anyone but top rappers and pro athletes, making documentaries about Castro and Arafat.
He now turns his eye to Alexander the Great, stirring controversy with his frank depiction of the man who conquered the world three centuries before Christ as a bisexual. Interesting, given that this kind of picture - ancient-world movies about guys in skirts - has always had a really heavy homoerotic subtext. Look at the relationship between Stephen Boyd's Messala and Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur. Boyd plays the whole film as someone who's in love.
In this three-hour extravaganza, Angelina Jolie plays Alexander's mom with an accent that would not be out of place in a Dracula movie. New York Latina Rosario Dawson, as an Asian princess who marries Alexander, is the only character in the film who wears more eyeliner than Jared Leto's Hephaistion, Alexander's main squeeze.
Lordy, this is a long movie, made longer by Anthony Hopkins as the elderly Ptolemy, narrating the picture in his "damn, I'm mellifluous" voice.
In its favour, Alexander offers a really stunning Jolie performance - accent be damned, when she's onscreen, you can't take your eyes off her.
Her portrait of Alexander's mom suggests that only one member of that family really had the force of personality to run the world, and it wasn't Colin Farrell's Alexander, who comes off as a neurotic ninny.
The Jolie-Farrell pairing joins the list of classic mother-son combos in which it would be chronologically impossible for the actress to have mothered the actor : Rachel Griffiths and Johnny Depp in Blow, Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate and Jessie Royce Landis and Cary Grant in North By Northwest.
The first battle sequence, in which Alexander's Macedonian troops defeat the Persian army, has a monumental scope and scale - the digital expansion is more effective than in the big battles in the movie Troy, for example.
And Dawson offers one of the most alarming foreplay scenes ever put on film. (A female writer remarked to me that she really liked that Stone would use someone like Dawson, a big, healthy woman who looks, and I quote, like a woman you'd see on the street. I want to know where that street is.)
Stone should really make a straight-ahead romance, one that isn't Natural Born Killers or U Turn. It'd have the potential to be a lot more interesting than Alexander, simply because his portraits of marriages suggest that he's someone who's got a boatload of issues.