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Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004)


    The opening credits of Alexander are capped with the quote ďFortune favors the bold,Ē and Oliver Stoneís handling of this epic suggest that heís taken those words to heart. Here heís created an audacious, risk-taking epic that unfashionably takes the chance that it might abandon some of its potential audience. Despite a huge, obviously utilized budget, the film is in no way classifiable as a crowd-pleaser. It occasionally fumbles and it sometimes feels downright hokey, but it cumulatively earns a feeling of gravity and reverence that fully justifies its extended running time. When Alexander ends, itís not the failures of the film or questions about its historical accuracy that stick in your mind; itís the extent to which Stone has realized this world and made us believe in his snake charming villains and one-eyed kings.


    Alexander is a trashy and lurid, yet almost old-fashioned epic that recalls the eroticized exotics of DeMille epics or Felliniís Satyricon more than overly morose, war-mongering fare like the recent Gladiator or Lord of the Rings films. Practically every lushly shot frame of the film oozes with erotic appeal. So much of Alexander is sexually charged, that itís ironic that thereís not more that a firm hug or two that passes between Alexander and his male lover Hephaistion (Jared Leto, who does the film no favors), but itís still surprising that Stone has opted to make this romance, and not one of those that Alexander had with his wives, the filmís central one. Thankfully, its failings on this front (itís not that the film fixates on a gay romance, so much as that it canít make said romance compelling) are only a minor chink in Alexanderís armor.


    As one would expect from Stone, the film is primarily focused on the conspiracies that destroy the great leader. Battle scenes are surprisingly marginalized in order to center attention on political intrigue. Though this decision somewhat obscures Alexanderís significant prowess as a military tactician, it certainly fleshes out the characters to an extent that what happens on the battlefield carries behind it a weightiness not generally seen in newer films of this kind. Destroyed by his overreaching ambition, Alexander emerges as a typically flawed, but undeniably ďGreatĒ Stone protagonist. Colin Farrell is charismatic and spontaneous in the lead role, though his satisfying turn canít quite compare to the lead performances in other Stone films like Nixon or JFK. The supporting cast is a mixed bag. Anthony Hopkins is disappointingly reduced to the role of narrator, but Angelina Jolie is superb as Alexanderís mother, managing to emasculate her son at every turn, while still being the obvious force that powers him. She writhes with a snake in nearly every scene she plays, and goes a long way toward energizing the filmís opening scenes. A lumbering Val Kilmer and an unexpectedly unrestrained Rosario Dawson supply other memorable turns. Collectively, they breathe life into the meticulously detailed world that Stone has created.



Jeremy Heilman