Whatever you're expecting from “Alexander,” the odds are high you'll be in for a huge surprise. Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great story is more about the man himself and his relationships with the men in his life, than it is about Alexander’s conquests and life as a ruler.
Anthony Hopkins serves to narrate “Alexander” and fill in parts of Alexander’s life Stone chose not to act out on the screen. After Hopkins’ opening narrative sets up Alexander’s backstory, we’re introduced to Alexander as a young boy. We quickly learn Alexander’s mom, Olympias, has a thing for snakes and has taught her boy he’s the son of a God. We see Alexander’s dad, King Philip, past his prime and disconnected from his only heir. It’s not until Alexander wows his father by taming a wild horse that Philip even acknowledges Alexander’s rightful place at his side. The first phase of the three hour film also sets up Alexander’s close relationship with Hephaistion and a small group of companions who will fight by Alexander’s side throughout his reign.
Colin Farrell enters the picture as Alexander at the age of 19. From that point on, “Alexander” transitions to a deeper, psychological examination of the man who led his armies over 22,000 miles defeating and then uniting countries until he ruled 90% of the known world.
Alexander’s sexual relationship with his lifelong companion Hephaistion (Jared Leto) is teased throughout the film, as is Alexander’s attraction to eunuchs. Despite all the hoopla over Stone’s depiction of Alexander as bisexual, the only sexual encounter that takes place on screen is between Farrell and Rosario Dawson as Alexander’s wife, Roxane. Their wedding night coupling is rough and raw like a showdown between two wild beasts, and more about dominance and power than about sex. The scene gives the audience a look at Dawson’s fantastic body, which should please the male sector of the audience who, until that point, may have been left uncomfortable by the film’s decidedly homosexual overtones.
While the fight scenes are magnificent, and Stone’s fierce desire to bring as much realism as possible to carefully staged sequences works to a better degree in this film than most historic epics, they are too few and far between. Considering Alexander the Great was known for his conquests on the battle field, surprisingly little time is dedicated to actually showing any of his battles. With so many to choose from, Stone really concentrates on only two – Alexander's rousing defeat of the Persian army at Gaugamela, and a vicious battle between Alexander’s army and Indian troops on elephants.
It’s understood Oliver Stone was interested in not just showing Alexander as a great military leader, but also as a tormented man who carried a great weight. But some of the lengthy dialogue scenes are guilty of covering areas of Alexander’s personality the audience has already grasped. Stone’s desire to show Alexander as a man who was raised by a deranged mother and an abusive, drunkard of a father does nothing to help us Alexander neophytes understand why men followed him to the ends of the earth. Full of self-doubt and obsessed with a desire to conquer lands all the way to the edge of the continent, Stone's Alexander shows only brief flashes of the greatness and heroism that earned him a distinguished place in history.
As for the cast, Farrell’s at his best when he’s addressing his men or showing his vulnerability. In battle, he’s a little slight of build and the blonde wig didn’t do much to make him an imposing figure. But he can say more with his eyes than most actors can convey with pages of dialogue, so I can understand why Stone saw him as Alexander.
Angelina Jolie takes it close to over the top, but pulls her performance back enough to make watching her quite fun. As the protective mother, she’s a lioness who’ll strike dead any potential predator who may cause harm to the love of her life. And Val Kilmer’s easily the best of the supporting cast. He chews the screen like there’s no tomorrow and you love him for tearing it to bits.
One of the big questions, at least for me, was why did Stone choose to use so many different accents? If you’ve watched the trailers and had your doubts, then yes, they are as distracting in the full length feature film as they are in the commercials. Not being a history buff, I have no idea whether Alexander the Great and his Macedonian cohorts spoke with an Irish accent. However in the film, the fact they do seems strangely out of place. And Angelina Jolie’s indescribable accent seems to be a take off on Natasha from "Rocky & Bullwinkle." Even at the end of three hours, the accents still never stopped being an annoyance.
Overall, “Alexander’s” not a bad film, but it’s also not a great one. There are flashes of brilliance interspersed with long periods of dead weight. Unevenly paced, “Alexander” is frustrating as Stone revs things up only to slam on the brakes once he’s got us engaged.