by Matt Smith
I really hate the theatrical cut of this movie. I’ve never seen the Director’s Cut. I’ll give that a shot later on in this series when I’ve got the stank of this one washed from my brain-retainer again. Big, bloated and ultimately groan-inducing, Oliver Stone’s 2004 sword-and-sandals epic Alexander could use a bit more of the conspiracy-minded political intrigue we’ve come to expect from the director.
There are so many problems with this movie I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s save the cast for a bit and start by talking about the production design.
I don’t understand how – ESPECIALLY since we’ve had revisionist Westerns that put us in the muck of the 1890s for decades now – we have yet to overcome the desire to present ancient civilizations with a shiny veneer of gold-plated opulence. The teeming masses of Iron Age societies were not big bathers, despite the prevalence of public accommodations for such. Not even royalty was big on the practice. So why doesn’t everyone in Alexander look like they smell bad? Or even like they live in the reality of their time?
No, instead of attempting to present something remotely historically accurate, the film seems to be trying for grandiose posturing and line delivery that makes everything uttered sound very important. The battles aren’t quite bloody enough, the city not quite bustling enough, and the overall look and feel – mostly due to the godawful sense of pacing the not very impressive production design is up against – makes the whole thing come off as a very well made high school theatrical production.
Oliver Stone is a director I respect. I don’t like everything he’s made by a mile, but I love Platoon, I think JFK is one of the best paranoia-induced batshit nightmares ever committed to celluloid, and that Natural Born Killers is an unsung masterpiece of 1990s cinema. Here he lacks any of the energy and bravura that enables his sensationalist aesthetics to work. Alexander, more than anything else, just is isn’t an interesting film, and the material gets away from the director. Instead of wallowing in the excesses, it never feels quite blown up and larger-than-life enough. Dramatic, sure, but Stone it’s most certainly not.
Accordingly, the cast is all wrong. Colin Farrell as Alexander is not a good fit, Angelina Jolie as his mother Olympias tries to do her best but doesn’t quite hold up, and Kilmer’s turn as Alexander’s father, King Philip II, is limp and ineffectual. We get the tension behind the trio’s relationship (parents don’t get alone, Alexander is going to prove himself worthy of the throne regardless), but the stakes just aren’t there for us as an audience. At no time did I feel invested in the outcome of this relationship. If Alexander didn’t come to power, then would it have even mattered? History tells us yes, but the film isn’t really clear. Aside from the superficial aspects of his conviction to prove himself, Alexander comes off as just another Grecian, which is a major problem if you’re telling the life story of the leader who is considered one of the greatest Western figureheads to have ever lived.
Of note, this was Oliver Stone’s second collaboration with Val Kilmer, who had previously played Jim Morrison in The Doors. It was also his second film with Anthony Hopkins, who plays Ptolemy in Alexander and played Richard Nixon in Stone’s 1995 biopic. I think it says a lot that both of those films, about obsessive characters in search of their place in life, are exceptional when compared to the excessive pomposity of Alexander. The thread of obsession is there, but the film never quite clicks and it remains as flat as a poorly written history text book.
<em>The Komplete Val Kilmography (2003-2012) is an ongoing column that will run through the end of the year. I will be viewing and writing about each film (and many TV shows) Val Kilmer appeared in (as long as I can track down a copy of it) in the past decade.</em>