Alexander

January 20th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Colin Farrell, Alexander Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Plummer

The recent crop of historical war films riding the coat tails of the Lord of the Rings series are becoming less interesting than the battles behind the scenes to get them made.

Throughout early 2004, the tabloids were reporting a very different battle; both Oliver Stone and our own Baz Luhrmann both had projects in development about the Macedonian king. Rumours from fears of terrorist attacks in the Moroccan location to scheduling conflicts with intended star Leonardo DiCaprio were the reasons given for the collapse of Luhrmann’s movie, to which Stone and Warner Bros must have breathed a sigh of relief.

But the ubiquitous gossip failed to ask two obvious questions. First, what was bad boy anti-establishment director Oliver Stone — famous for trouble making, conspiracy theories and stepping on Hollywood toes — doing behind the megaphone of a holiday season blockbuster? Had the fat paycheque for what looked like another historical hatchet job been enough to make Stone turn studio hack?

And second, would Colin Farrell — the archetypal bad boy of Hollywood stardom, surrounded by rumours of sexual and substance excess, a penchant for foul language and constant references to his own apparently oversized genitalia — sell the role of an ancient, noble, awe-inspiring and bisexual master military strategist?

A highly amusing aside is Aristotle (Plummer) as Alexander’s teacher, warning that excess destroys man — nobody in casting thought it was funny he was talking to the boy who would be Colin Farrell?

Unfortunately, like Troy, King Arthur, The Last Samurai and every other historical war epic that’s soaked our screens in fake blood for the last year, Alexander is a singular exercise in excess. It’s not a mess, nor it is a carbon copy of the entries into the genre that came before it — it does tell a story, not just a series of excuses to display another spectacular CG battle scene.

But it’s typical of everything Hollywood gets wrong; an overstuffed, bloated, garish, top heavy, self-indulgent and self-important action movie disguised as a history lesson, with no realism spared for sacrifice on the altar of melodrama and blockbuster action movie conventions. Every line of dialogue is spoken in lyric tones while looking nobly towards the sky, the words pure poetry (although is some strange accents probably not native to ancient Greece).

However true to the myth or man as the three hour long film is, it introduces us to an Oedipal relationship between Alexander, his politically scheming mother Olympus (Jolie, playing the one role in the film that calls for any subtlety) and his embittered, drunkard father, King Philip (Kilmer).

After growing up with his mother warning him about the conspiracies surrounding them to destabilise his claim to the throne of Macedonia, his father is killed and he ascends, setting out on his eight year quest to the Indian Ocean to conquer the known world (at the time, the whole Eurasian continent).

Three hours is more than enough room to jam in plenty of exposition and storytelling, so Alexander’s homosexual relationships are explored and implied (but never shown so as not to put off the middle American audience).

His continued insecurity complex about his father and his trying to navigate the ambitions of his mother weave in and out of the story, but the bulk of the film is a road movie, stopping every now and then for a battle or another bout of soul searching about the nature of being a king, wanting to go home or conquering the odd known world by the age of 25.

Farrell’s altar boy blonde hairstyle morphs into an impressive mullet and from there into a full blonde do straight out of Guns’n’Roses. Together with Alexander’s terminal case of saying every line like it’s the most important sentence to ever come out of his mouth, Farrell looks ridiculous and is badly miscast.

But what’s more disturbing about another fetid war movie based on historical fact is the portrayal in these films of such bloody slaughter as something glorious and noble. Here we are remembering Alexander 25 centuries after he lived, making movies about him and casting him as a brilliant military leader and a hero.

In the year 4,000, will they make movies about George W Bush and his triumph during the early 21st century in wiping out the barbarian hordes of the rest of the world, portraying him fighting on the front lines with his men for the glory of conquest?

The fact is that Alexander was a thug and a mass murderer like many people now believe of US foreign policy since the 1950s. He’s portrayed in the film as a king who wants to unite the world in peace, and achieves it by butchering the armies of countries and tribes across the Middle East and Asia as they try to stop his advance across their land. Even in those days there was such a thing as ‘perpetual war for perpetual peace’.

So why don’t we start making movies about people who change the world through peace? Probably because Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Aung Saan Suu Kyi and Ken Saro-Wiwa wouldn’t make very exciting blockbusters. Hacked off limbs, animal cruelty, ethnic cleansing — now that’s entertainment.


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