- Oliver Stone
- Reviewed by
- Josť Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Saturday, December 11, 2004
The movie chronicles the life of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell), born in Macedonia to savage King Philip (Val Kilmer) and her sorceress wife Olympias (Angelina Jolie). Alexander takes the throne when heís just getting to his twenties, and embarks on a quest to conquer as much territory as he can, while becoming, at 25, the most powerful ruler in the world.
I could go into much more details regarding the plot, but to tell you the truth, they donít really matter. That paragraph tells you all of whatís in store in a nutshell. And it makes up for a juicy story, no wonder this Macedonian King has received more than one big screen treatment and countless intents that didnít go anywhere. At one point it seemed like Oliver Stoneís treatment was never going to be made. But the infamous director kept fighting and finally got his budget, his cast and his extraordinary team. And Iím glad he did.
Alexander is not an easy movie to watch. At its core, it looks like a huge epic like many that have been released over the past few years. Some battles, attractive cast, lush settings and a lot of money spentÖ there you go. But what I found in Alexander was an amalgam of those aspects but forming a much more profound, serious, artsy, difficult, intelligent movie. It challenges you. Sure, it runs a long three hours, and it does have a slow pace, but if you just try to get the movie and understand every line and every meaning of each scene, youíre in for a treat. I literally didnít want the movie to end. I think it is fascinating.
But why fascinating?
Alexander was a man of many layers. He was raised by two conflicted parents who hated each other. And he always lived under their shadow. Throughout his life he was continually reminded of his father, and the obsession of his mother just never left him alone. Then there was his idealism. Alexander sure wasnít a bad man. He had a dream. He dreamt of having one big empire in which instead of just taking over and making slaves out of the people in different regions, he could learn all about their traditions and language and culture. He didnít let his men rape women. He even went on to marry a member of a tribe. And every step of the way, his decisions were controversial. His own council was against him. And fighting the system and going forward was one of his most brilliant moves, but also one of his pitfalls, as conquering the world is not as easy as it sounds.
In other words, Alexander was a fascinating subject. And whatís so brilliant about this movie is that Stone never really pinpoints one thing or the other as the reason why he became the man he became. After all, that would be too pretentious. What Stone does, and does it very well, is show us everything that mightíve influenced Alexander to become the man he became. Itís we, the audience, who should try to understand him and make our own conclusions. And I applaud that. At its core the movie is a character study, and we are not used to getting character studies of this magnitude, so grandiose. Stone was brave enough to stay true to his vision and not get intimidated.
The movie also delves into Alexanderís intimate life. Widely known to be bisexual, Stone doesnít shy away from showing it. We learn from the movie that Alexander always loved Hephaistion (Jared Leto), who stayed with him until the end. But he was nowhere near monotonous. And neither did that matter at the time. It was a time when such terms and limitations and boundaries did not exist. And itís a pity that so much negativity has been targeted at the movie for this. Why not only watch it as a story of human beings? Sure, the only sex scene in the movie happens with a woman (Rosario Dawson), but criticizing this is just not getting the point of that scene. It isnít just inserting a sex scene in there for nothingís sake. Thereís a whole subtext going on. And it wasnít necessary to shoot a gay sex scene because it wouldíve made it exploitative. Whatever gay content thereís in the movie Stone shows it in more imaginative ways that make the point clearly and effectively.
Another thing that actually surprised me is the actual lack of action involving battles in the movie. The second and third installments of the Lord of the Rings movies, for instance, took about a whole hour of their running times in extraordinary, breath-taking battles. But Alexander only boasts two of them, and they donít last that much. Both battles, by the way, are exhilarating and original and full of tension. And even more surprising is that when the movie ends it is impressive to realize the actual lack of action shown. You feel exhausted, but itís because of the level of intensity that every scene brings, even when thereís only dialogue involving two characters!
So yes, it is a dense movie. No denying that at all. And it is also a period piece that barely feels like one. When you see Troy, to name an example, you never lose the feeling that what youíre seeing are actors walking around disguised in togas in elaborate sets. I donít know how Stone did it, but Alexander feels like a modern movie in the way that the costumes and sets and acting blend together so well that it doesnít get distracting and itís the story that gets the focus.
Another decision that Stone made regarding the structure of the movie was inserting a rather relevant flashback once the movie is getting to its end. Many people didnít like this and I thought I wouldnít as well. But again... missing the point. The flashback actually has something to do with the moment in Alexanderís life weíre witnessing. Itís a poignant moment that is effective and well-handled. Another complaint by some people is the music. When I heard Vangelis was doing the music I thought it was a horrible idea. Once you see the movie it feels odd at first, but soon you forget about it and the music actually blends quite well with the story. Sure, it does push for some rather melodramatic moments, but it works. It really does. Oh, and the whole issue about having people from different cultures speaking with different accents... I actually think it was a good idea. It differentiates ones from the others. And I had no problem with that at all.
Colin Farrell makes Alexander his own. It is a tour-de-force performance handled expertly by an actor who knows his craft. Farrell is extremely talented, and he puts so much passion and emotion in his performance that he mustíve been exhausted after the movie finished shooting. Itís testimony of really getting under a characterís skin and embodying him. The performance and transformation are, in one word, impressive. Val Kilmer also shines as the hard-drinking Philip. And Angelina Jolie delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance with aplomb. Her eyes alone can scare the shit out of you. Christopher Plummer has a small appearance as Aristotle, Anthony Hopkins plays our narrator, Ptolemy, and Rosario Dawson holds her own as Alexanderís first wife. Only Jared Leto seemed a bit miscast to me, but his work is strong enough.
Did I mention the movie is exquisitely photographed by Rodrigo Prieto? And every technical aspect is impeccable as well. They really nailed the era.
Overall a passionate, vivid, insightful epic about one of the most fascinating legends of all-time!
ďIn my womb I carried my avenger!Ē
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Other reviews of Alexander (2004): Mithrandir
- Oliver Stone
- Reviewed by
- Jorge Castillo a.k.a. Mithrandir
- Review date
- Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Alexander is the biopic of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell), the Macedonian King who conquered most of the world, as it was known at the time, by the age of 30. Narrated by the philosopher Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), the movie takes a look at the life of Alexander, from his childhood as the son of King Philip (Val Kilmer), to his ascension to the throne of Macedonia at the early age of 20, after his father was killed. Along the way, we see the impact that his mother Olympia (Angelina Jolie) has on his life and his way of thinking. Taking off at Macedonia, the film follows Alexanderís conquest of the known world, first leading his army against the incredibly powerful Persian Empire, going west to Egypt after that and finally making his last battle at India. All of these crowning achievements occur in a period of 8 to 11 years.
Thereís a subplot in the movie that deals strictly with sexuality, not only Alexanderís, but that of all males in general. It was custom for an older, more mature Greek to take under his care, as a sort of protťgť, a younger boy, to teach him everything, from preparation for battle to getting comfortable in their own skin (sort of) by having sex with them. This was normal back then, and most males had a wife with which they had kids at the same time that they had a younger boy under their care, to satisfy their sexual needs whenever desired. Alexanderís case was a bit different though: instead of having a boy just for his sexual escapades, he had a lover, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), whom he had been friends with since his early childhood. Their love is shown exclusively as hugs and words, though it is obvious that they are also sexual partners.
First of all, I want to congratulate WB for taking the chance that they did with this movie. It is an extremely expensive epic ($150+ million) and it deals with subjects that are still considered taboo in certain parts of our society. Second of all, I want to thank Oliver Stone for directing this movie and for having the necessary balls to make a movie that is honest to the historical record existent today. Unlike Troy (2004), where the historically-recorded sexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was merely reduced to a friendship, Oliver Stone actually decided to film the movie in accordance with history, presenting Alexander for what he was: a bisexual man in love with another man.
In the supporting actors department, we have Anthony Hopkins as the narrator Ptolemy, which, in my opinion, was a very wise casting decision. I cannot picture another actor doing his part as well as he did, except perhaps Christopher Lee (and thatís because the man is amazing and can do nothing wrong in the acting departmentÖ no matter what). Though heís only in the movie for an average 20 to 30 minutes as a whole, he brings a sense of old age and tranquility to his character that makes it very refreshing to have him onscreen after a big battle or a fight to death. Val Kilmer as King Philip is nothing short of astounding: he gained over 50 pounds for the role and had about 2 hours of makeup applied everyday to make him look older, as well as for the scar tissue that covered his eye. Rosario Dawson as Roxane, Alexanderís first wife, steals every scene sheís in. Having probably some of the more risquť parts of the movie (a scene where she fights with Alexander, sheís completely naked, with breasts and vagina showing), she really delivers as the barbarian Egyptian they make her out to be. Last, but not least, thereís Jared Letoís performance as Hephaistion, which made me believe that he was in fact in love with Alexander: not an easy thing to do, especially when youíre playing a gay man being a straight actor. He pulled it off magnificently.
The two main characters in this movie, along with the rest of the crowd, make up one of the best casts Iíve seen in a movie in a long time. First thereís the truly wonderful and amazing Angelina Jolie, who can also NEVER, and I mean NEVER do wrong in my eyes. She played Alexanderís mother Olympia, and she was every bit convincing and every bit amazing as I imagined her to be. If you have seen the movie or are planning to see it, look out for the scene where Olympia discovers that Alexander has died. She will truly move you. Her character stands alone for me in the movie, as the best performance of the cast. On the other hand, thereís Colin Farrell. Now, Iíve never really been a fan of his work, and Iíve never thought of him as an amazing actor. That opinion changed not so long ago when I saw a little film named A Home at the End of the World (2004). His performance in that movie alone managed to change my opinion about his acting skills, and I can honestly say that he did not disappoint in this one. He truly gets into the character: he literally becomes Alexander, and it is so remarkable to see him transform the character psychologically from one scene to the other the way he didÖ he got to me.
There are two major battle scenes in this movie: the battle at Gaugamela and the battle at India. Which one was more amazing and more visually stunning, it is hard for me to decide. There were two scenes in these battles that made me call this movie one of the best Iíve seen this year. In the battle at Gaugamela, while Alexander is speaking to his army, the camera slowly closes up on his face, but in a second, all of a sudden the camera moves from his face towards the sky, and we catch an eagle, soaring around the heavens. What happens from there made me feel wet in my pants: the camera literally follows behind the eagle flying, and below you can see the armies grouping and the beginning of the battle; this scene alone was worth my money. Though I know it was all computerized special effects, the incredibly realistic way in which they achieved it was mesmerizing. In the battle at India, when Alexander is riding through the woods and sees an elephant for the first time, he gallops towards it, and the moment that they stand face to face, the scene is captured in slow motion, so subtle, so beautiful, it literally made my eyes watery (Iím a big sucker for this kind of stuff).
I could go on and on about this film and why it did not deserve the reviews that it got from the critics. I did not concentrate in this review on the aspect that most critics were discussing: Alexanderís sexuality. I rather chose to talk about the general aspects of this film, its cast, and why it is such an amazing picture. I truly recommend this movie to each and every one of you reading this out there. Itís a long movie (3+ hours), but it is totally and utterly worth your time and your money. Go see it with an open mind, and you will find the greatness in Alexander.
ďConquer your fears, and I promise you, you will conquer death.Ē
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Other reviews of Alexander (2004): Morris