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November 2004


Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Oliver Stone
Producer: Moritz Borman, Jon Kilik, Iain Smith, & Thomas Schuehly
Screenwriters: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis
Composer: Vangelis
Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson, & Jared Leto




Going into Oliver Stone's forthcoming epic "Alexander", I had more than a few trepidations about its potential; after all, this was the second Œswords and sandals' epic of the year (after the dismal "Troy"), and I was concerned that Stone's polarizing politics might insinuate themselves too far into the narrative to keep the film an isolated epic. After watching it, I can say unequivocally my worries prove unfounded; returning after a five-year hiatus from commercial filmmaking, Stone made an epic that rivals the best in Hollywood history and a damned entertaining movie that is sure to sweep multiplex audiences along in its beguiling thrall.

Colin Farrell, perhaps by a few degrees too slight to fill the shoes of one of antiquity's greatest leaders, plays Alexander, a dedicated general who devoted his empire to the idea of peaceful co-existence with other cultures (even if he officially had to conquer them first). His mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie), raised him from childhood as the son of no less than the Greek gods' Zeus, and his father Philip's (Val Kilmer) domineering presence sculpted him into a formidable leader by the time he reached his early twenties.

During the last eight years of his life, Alexander led Greek, Macedonian and Eastern armies to victory from his homelands to the furthest reaches of India, only to find the legacy of his achievements later be scattered to the four corners of the earth by duplicitous underlings and ambitious political strategists. Along the way, he conquered the Persian army in one of the great offensive strikes in military history, expanded Macedonian control to lands no one ever encountered, and took an unconventional bride named Roxane (Rosario Dawson) who symbolized his commingling of cultures across the entirety of his great empire.

Farrell might be a little too pretty to play the same man who ushered in one of history's greatest eras of prosperity; but thankfully, he's got a cast that complements his style. Angelina Jolie, still all lips even after her superlative turn in this fall's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", turns in a typically bombastic performance as Alexander's mother, but it's appropriate for director Stone's quasi-existential approach to the material, which weaves as much truth as it can from the many writings of the era while paying homage to the spirit of divination that drove the motivation and behavior of the time depicted.

Meanwhile, Kilmer's best moment arrives just before he gets offed (sorry folks, but if he didn't die, Alex would never have become king), Rosario Dawson (The Rundown) lends ferocity to a role that amounts to little more than a feminine anchor amidst Stone's sea of masculinity, Jared Leto ("Panic Room") provides more than a few come-hither gazes as Alexander's trusted confidante Hephaistion, and Anthony Hopkins ("Red Dragon") frames Alexander's story as the film's narrator, and more importantly, commentator on the considerable accomplishments of the king's short but memorable life.

Of course, the film's success or failure all comes down to its leading man, and Farrell does wonders with material (courtesy a script by Stone and Christopher Kyle) that was no doubt tailored to fit historical accuracies more than simple character-building; Farrell's fealty to the director's domineering whim is reflected in the repartee between Alexander and his father, and the performer gives the second of two great performances in but a year's time (after this spring's "A Home at the End of the World"). His physical unimpressiveness notwithstanding (Russell Crowe's Maximus would pick his teeth with the lad), Farrell's intensity lends the character gravitas and suggests a thinking man's leader rather than an obstinate, muscle-bound alpha male.

Oliver Stone's previous big screen effort was the football drama "Any Given Sunday", which took a theoretical look at gridiron politics; with "Alexander", he employs a similar approach to demonstrate not only the main character's successful military campaigns (he outflanked an enemy in an era when assaults were typically staged exclusively from one front), but his philosophical standpoint as well, which is particularly prescient in the wake of recent events. At the same time, Stone sidesteps any direct comparisons to contemporary politics, and creates a believable cinematic tapestry that exists autonomously as a big-budget Hollywood epic that just happens to have cultural relevancy, rather than finding a "message" and constructing a film around it.

"Alexander", like any great epic, draws its characters broadly, then focuses in on their complexities, creating a world archetypal in its conception but impressionistic in its execution. Alexander's defining moment as a youth is taming a stallion even his father considers too wild; his defining moment as an adult is marrying a woman who represents not only a refutation of his heritage, but the critical assimilation of the cultures he has conquered. Both are indelible scenes, shot with trademark style by Stone's muscular cameras, and possess the essence of the director's appeal as a filmmaker: he knows as well how to capture the quiet moments as the loud ones, and invest one with the other's energy.

Stone, a Hollywood outsider with instincts that time and again have landed him in the proverbial lion's den, stands up against the seemingly indestructible forces conspiring against him, rears back his stallion, and charges headlong into the fray, forgetting everything but the fact that his vision, his ideal, must be achieved at any cost. And in the end, he, like Alexander, returns from the battlefield, bloodied, battered and resolutely victorious.