Saturday, April 4, 2009


"Alexander" (Oliver Stone, 2004) In the two-way race getting the story of Alexander the Great to the screen between Baz Luhrmann and Oliver Stone, the latter got there first, having worked on a screen-play since 1989. Luhrmann's announcement of an "Alexander" project was probably just the thing Stone's film needed to get off the ground, and his thorough planning shows (historical inaccuracies aside): this is one of Stone's deftest film--a combination of his macho liberal ethics and his pre-disposition to turn everything into braying Myth. Here he's dealing with Gods and Titans and men who reach beyond their grasp, and if one thinks this one has a political agenda talking about a King wanting to chase his Persian prey into the mountains, you're only scanning the surface for easy targets.*

Stone's going for epic statements here of dreamers and the pains they inflict on Society** and a pretty good tying up of some major themes in several of his films without descending into his fall-back of the "Good and Bad Fathers of our Soul." Oh,
there is familial stress going on constantly with two of the more watchable stars as Alexander's warring father and mother King Phillip and Olympias (Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie***). Their battles for the betterment of Alexander (Colin Farrell) make up the intrigue that Stone keeps flashing back to once Alexander reaches Babylon and established his first Alexandria city-state. But the main focus is Alexander and his battles from Ireland**** Macedonia to Persia to India, each one given their own specific vantage point. The desert combat in Persia is given a neat over-view by a mythic hawk, the latest in a long line of familiars haunting Stone protagonists. The India battle is an epic jungle gore-fest between man and beast that turns into a red nightmare, but is affectionately begun with an old-time movie iris-out.

The film is so full of "rules of thumb," you begin to wonder if there's not a training manual with the thing ("A commander never gives an order he wouldn't carry out himself," "Don't surrender your reason to passion," "Moderation in all things" and the film's mantra "Fortune favors the bold"), and as gritty as Stone makes it (
and there's a lot of blood-spatter flying through the battle scenes), it has the pristine quality of those Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics where even the Persian city of Babylon seems immaculately free of dust. Stone seemed inspired by the look of "The Lord of the Rings" and its way around a vast story-line, but seems to favor his Myths well-scrubbed.

Still, it's an epic that was filmed in 93 days, despite far-flung locations and looks miraculous despite the tight schedule. For all the things that could conceivably have gone wrong, Stone's Cecil B. DeMille styled dream project managed a lot of things right.

* Stone's "W." biography would show up at the end of 2008, looking rushed and a little wasted and without much to say. You can't satirize a political satire, and the joke ceased being funny a long time ago.

** In an odd post-mortem, Alexander's kinsman Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) supposes that Societies are inspired by dreamers and then exhausted by them to the point of wishing them failure, if not death. That's an interesting thought coming from Mr. Conspiracy Theory. Stone's also one of those liberals who likes to include all of us to enjoy his guilt—"It's all out faults." Hey, speak for yourself, mack!

*** Stone is particularly praise-worthy of his actors on the commentary track of this film and with good cause--Farrell shows off the promise that his over-hyped career has only suggested, Kilmer is as boisterously good as he's been in years, and Jolie again shows why she's one of the most commanding actors on the screen these days. She has a line reading ("Loves. Loves!") that wheels between conflicting emotions with such quick-silver speed that it nearly whips your head around. One would be tempted to see that she's the latter day Ava Gardner if not for one thing—she's a better actor than Gardner. Stone loves a touch of madness in his actors. Jolie is his perfect match.

**** Farrell doesn't disguise his Irish accent, and the kid who plays him (very well) in the early sections of the movie does a fair register of Farrell's brogue. But most of the actors have Irish accents that at times is distracting, but somehow seems fitting for the folk-tale blarney with which Stone tells the story. You go with it, as it feels right. Kilmer's accent is American. Jolie's is faux-Greek.

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