A review of “Alexander” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: R for extreme violence and sexuality

Run Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes



All Hail Alexander the Great, the great military genius who set out to conquer the world and came perilously close to getting the job done. Unfortunately Oliver Stone’s ambitious ode to the King of Macedon doesn’t.

It begins with Alexander the boy (Jessie Kamm), groomed to be ever the best but so thoroughly cowed by his sorceress mother (Angelina Jolie as Olympias) that he can’t break the ties that bind. This sets the stage for a thorny tangle of Freudian consequence as sultry, vicious Olympias determines that her little man will ultimately rule Greece.

The noble empire of Greece isn’t enough, as young adult Alexander (Colin Farrell) demonstrates when he sets out to conquer Persia, Asia and India.  Frenzied pastiches of bloody melees edited in Stone’s fever-dream style depict Alexander’s burgeoning fantasy of stripping away the illusions of boundaries.

What’s not to love about the creation of a world monarchy and a naked ambition to spread a cosmopolitan Hellenistic culture across the planet?  Its historical relevance can’t be denied nor can its richly extravagant detail, but Alexander is steeped in an all-consuming aura of audacious indulgence.

If there is one aspect of Alexander that needs to remain constant its Farrell’s skill at authenticating the power and glory that defined O Megas Alexandros.  Blonde and feminine with Irish brogue at hand, Farrell doesn’t generate the iniquitous fire necessary to portray a true warrior and masterful leader. No megalomaniacal verve, no authoritative command, just tentative micro-management and an uneasy lunacy that offers the illusion of strength.

From top to bottom the cast works the project with histrionic gusto.  Anthony Hopkins as Old Ptolemy (King of Ancient Egypt) has the dubious distinction of narrating from an elder statesman point-of-view, complete with subservient scribe furiously jotting notes for the sake of the history books. Jolie calculates coup after coup in the sinuous tradition of her reptilian co-stars.

Rosario Dawson is furiously out of control as Alexander’s exotic Batrician wife Roxane, more lawless Goddess than fit for a Queen. Jared Leto lends Alexander’s lifelong lover Hephaestion a glaring wounded pride but finds his narratively pivotal man-on-man love scenes left somewhere on the cutting room floor.

The scope of Stone’s arrogant theatrics impress, from the digital display that is Mesopotamia’s splendorous Babylon (reminiscent of D.W. Griffith’s overblown Intolerance) to a lone eagle flying over the massive hordes of battle to an elephant-charged skirmish extraordinaire in India’s fertile jungle.  

The mad genius has opened his veins for this amalgam of art and trash but the final diagnosis is sloppy, ungainly and semi-contrived. Alexander doesn’t attain the stylish swords-and-sandals majesty of Gladiator or even the sparkling junctures of its pale imitator Troy.  If excess of all things is indeed the undoing of men then Stone has succeeded mightily.