Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Alexander the Not-So-Great

Ah, the perks at working for the worlds largest book retailer.

Last night, I went to see Alexander with a preview ticket I obtained from a coworker who had other plans. I went into this movie with, I admit, high expectations, the subject of the film being one of history's most fascinating characters, and the director (Oliver Stone) having made Natural Born Killers, one of my all time favorite movies.

Other reviewers have suggested that the subtitle most appropriate to this movie would be 'Alexander the Gay'. This is so accurate, it sums up the entire three-hour excercise in self-indulgent navel gazing better than any review possibly could. But I'll try anyway.

Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world, and a fairly good chunk of the 'Here Be Dragons' part, by his early thirties. He spent his entire adult life at war, though you would not know this from watching the movie, which includes a grand total of two battle scenes, neither of which is particularly gripping. Alexander spends more time gazing deeply into the eyes of his gay lover than he does killing people.

There are puzzling omissions in the movie. For instance, Alexander does not visit the Oracle at Delphi or cut the Gordian knot. His relationship with Aristotle is barely touched upon, despite the fact that Alexander remained in touch with his singularly brilliant tutor periodically throughout his life. For some reason, Collin Farrell omits certain mannerisms, for instance Alexander's characteristic head-tilt, which was remarked upon by many contemporary observers.

Indeed, Collin Farrell's portrayal of Alexander fails on almost every level. Here is a man, after all, who was a stategic genius and a machiavellian leader whose inspired his army to follow him to the ends of the earth. By any account, he was a singularly strong and complex man. He comes off, instead, as a sensitive metrosexual with severe Oedipal issues. In battle, he looks either confused or terrified; when speaking he is anything but inspiring, tending instead towards the insipid.

Mr. Farrell isn't the only one whose acting fails to convince. Anthony Hopkins, as the old man in Alexandria who remembers Alexander, manages to talk a lot without saying anything memorable. Though it's possible his character is meant to be a pompous old bastard, it's more likely he's meant to be the wise old man who acts as the guide to Alexander's life. He says nothing insightful or enlightening, though in all fairness the blame for this can be placed on the script writers.

Then there's Angelina Jolie, as Alexander's mother, Olympias. Conniving and ambitious, suspected by her countrymen of being a sorceress, Ms. Jolie does a good job, save for one disturbing (and possibly intentional) detail: when she gazes on her son, the love in her eyes is not best described as maternal. Unless, of course, you're from the Cahulawassie river.

About the only performance of any note is Val Kilmer as Alexander's father, Philip the Great, notable chiefly because it's perhaps the first role he's ever had in which he's not pretty.

In the end, don't waste your money seeing this is the theatre, or renting it at Blockbuster. Don't even waste bandwidth downloading it. If you must see it, wait for it to show on the History channel ... though perhaps Showcase would be more appropriate.

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