out of Five
Running time: 173
Colin Farrell is woefully miscast in the lead, but that’s the least of Alexander’s problems because the film is a disaster on an epic scale: sprawling, messy, incoherent and an early contender for one of the worst movies of 2005.
As sometimes happens in Hollywood, there were, at one time, two films about Alexander the Great in pre-production: Oliver Stone’s version and another one, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrman. Initially, Stone’s film sounded like the better prospect, so when it was announced that the Lurhman version was dead in the water no-one really seemed to mind. However, Stone’s directorial powers seem to have deserted him and Alexander is both a massive disappointment and the first high-profile turkey of the year.
The film is narrated by Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), several years after Alexander’s death in the year 323 BC, at the age of 32. Colin Farrell
(sporting a blond fright wig) plays Alexander the Great, the young
Macedonian king who had conquered half of Asia by the time he reached 25, defeating the Persians and then pushing on to India, against the advice of his men (including “lifelong friend” Hephaistion, played by Jared Leto) and amidst rumbles of mutiny. We also get glimpses of Alexander’s tumultuous upbringing with the world’s first dysfunctional family: snake-worshipping Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and one-eyed hellraiser Philip (Val Kilmer).
Extraordinarily Dull Script
The main problem is the script, written by Stone, Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis; long stretches of the film are extraordinarily dull and the dialogue is clunky at best. Similarly, there are surprisingly few battle sequences, although that’s actually something of a relief, because the main set-piece battle is so badly shot and edited that you can’t tell what’s going on. To make matters worse, the soundtrack is appalling – just why Stone thought Vangelis were the people for the job is a complete mystery.
Colin Farrell has proven himself to be an impressive actor in small scale projects such as Tigerland or Intermission, but he’s woefully miscast here. A good example of this is during the Braveheart-esque ‘rallying the troops’ scene, which fails dismally, partly because of the script but also because Farrell lacks the screen presence to carry it off. You can’t imagine following him out of a room, let alone across continents.
As for Jared Leto, he doesn’t make much of an impression, mainly because Stone merely skirts around the issue of Alexander’s bisexuality – apart from the odd lustful glance all you get is a snigger-inducing line delivered by Hopkins: “They say Alexander was defeated only once - by Hephaistion’s thighs”.
Highlights Few And Far Between
Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer fare slightly better, largely because they’re clearly having a lot more fun than everyone else. Jolie’s performance in particular is delightfully bonkers, presenting Alexander with an Oedipal nightmare and using a Comedy Accent that sounds suspiciously as if it’s been stolen from Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
In fact, the accents in the film are unintentionally hilarious: after the “cheerful Irish Cockneys” in Churchill: The Hollywood Years, Stone gives us the Irish Macedonians, with everyone speaking in a different Irish dialect. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time – a similar accent with regional variations – but the result is distracting.
Inevitably, there are some highlights, though they are few and far between. They include Jolie’s performance; a spectacularly naked Rosario Dawson (as Roxane, a Persian girl who becomes Alexander’s first wife); and The Attack Of The Killer Elephants, featuring an astonishing Horse vs Elephant moment that manages to be laughable and impressive at the same time. That said, there are also some hilariously bad bits, such as Alexander’s impassioned speech at Hephaistion’s bedside, with the latter expiring jerkily in the background while Alexander looks out of the window.
To sum up, Alexander is an unmitigated disaster, thanks to a miscast lead, confusing direction and a dull script. If it were an hour shorter it might be worth seeing for comedy ‘so bad it’s good’ value. As it is, you’re better off renting Troy again instead. Wait for the DVD, when you’ll at least be able to skip to the scenes with Rosario Dawson and the Killer Elephants.