The International Writers Magazine: DVD Review
The Directors Cut
last year Alexander, director Oliver Stones film
version of the life of Alexander the Great, came out to dismal
reviews and worse box office. (But good overseas returns).There
were controversies over its portrayal of the bisexuality of its
protagonist, as well as the poor screenplay, stilted dialogue,
and many other things.
the DVD version, Stone insisted on issuing only the Directors
Cut, not the theatrical version, for he claimed the theatrical version
had been bowdlerized, and made more linear. He even claims such on the
DVD commentary track, wherein he claims he had to dumb down the film
for American audiences, as well as cut out some of the homoeroticism
- due to either a) American homophobia or b) historical accuracy; claiming
its never been proved Alexander had gay lovers. By that token,
and way of assessing history, one could claim he was asexual.
Still, I just point this all out because Ive only seen the DVD
version, and while far from a great film, the film is not nearly as
bad as the theatrical version must have been. Its also a damned
sight better film than the same years King Arthur was.
Still, its major flaws lie mostly with those that infect most biopics-
it tries to tell too much, rather than focusing on an important or revelatory
moment in the subjects life. The other biggest flaws are in casting.
Anthony Hopkins is good as the narrator- Ptolemy of Alexandria, and
Val Kilmer does well as one-eyed Macedonian King Philip- Alexanders
father. Three of the other four leads are woefully miscast- starting
with Colin Farrell as Alexander. Perhaps its just his inexplicably
bad blond dye job for hair, considering hes a supposedly swarthy
Greek, but he just lacks the gravitas as an actor to carry off the role.
Hes a shorter, uglier Brad Pitt with less acting talent. Pitts
current paramour, Angelina Jolie is even worse as Alexanders mother
Olympias - with a bizarre accent that sounds Transylvanian, and makeup
that makes her look surprisingly ugly, instead of sexy. Not to mention
her obsession with phallic serpents. The worst casting, however, has
to be African-American actress Rosario Dawson as Persian Princess Roxane.
Hello? There were no Africans in Persia, and certainly not as princesses.
Her accent veers all over the place, but we do get to see a sex scene
between her and Alexander where her naked mammoth mammaries and killer
body almost redeem her lack of acting ability. The lone other good choice
in casting is the fey Jared Leto as Alexanders gay lover Hephaistion.
We get the requisite battles, the CGI armies of huge hordes, but
Stones camera work is not what it was a decade or more ago. There
is very little that sets this apart as an Oliver Stone film. Its
a generic pseudo-epic that makes the great epics, like Spartacus,
or Lawrence Of Arabia seem that much greater. I guess theres
just a simple lack of passion in the whole endeavor. What saves the
film from being total trash, however, is Val Kilmers relationship
with Alexander- mostly as a boy (Connor Paolo), but also with the older
Farrell. Kilmers best moment comes when he demands buying a horse
at half price if Alexander can tame it. The son, of course, tames it,
in generic rite of passage form, but the key that makes this otherwise
trite scene work is how Philip will to risk his sons life merely
for a bargain. It shows why the two men will bond, but never be truly
This version of the film is non-linear- unlike the original, and intercuts
Alexanders later triumphs with the assassination of his father,
and in a handful of scenes the best of Oliver Stone paranoia and conspiracy
resurfaces, especially when the older Alexander holds his dying father
and we recall scenes of Philip and the young Alexander speaking of legends
and human history. There are also some realistically grim scenes in
a filed hospital where dying soldiers are mercy killed.
The DVD comes with two trailers, some PC features, the commentary, and
three featurettes directed by Stones son Sean. None are particularly
insightful and although they are broken up into three films to ostensibly
highlight the making of the film, the historical aspects of the film,
and the special effects, they are so poorly edited that they all bleed
into one long featurette that gives very little insight- save in perhaps
recapitulating the hectic and hell-mell nature of the film itself. Oh,
another lowlight of the film? The absolutely generic scoring done by
Vangelis, of Chariots Of Fire fame. It would have been far more
daring had Stone used a modern rock score, as he may have done a decade
ago. The stale classical tripe only highlights the creative bankruptcy
of the enterprise, which wallows in the banal and generic.
The ending has an older Ptolemy telling Alexanders tale to Egyptian
scribes, and possibly revealing his part in a plot to kill Alexander
- poisoning. Its about the only way to stop him, for he never
lost a battle, and even survived an encounter with a spear-chucking
Indian elephant rider. Alexanders invincibility works against
the outer tale - his conquests. Were I to redo this film I would have
left most of the outer history to tal k-overs, and concentrated on the
inner tale of a son torn between two parents. Also, Stones claims,
in film and commentary, that Alexander had no choice but to conquer
and kill may delight Freudians, but has little real world resonance.
His only defeat, we are told, was by the thighs of Hephaistion.
Yet, little erotic passion exists between the two men. Was Stone afraid
to show a scene between Farrell and Leto as graphic as that between
Farrell and Dawson? When Hephaistion dies, possibly at Roxanes
hand, we feel nothing, because Stone has shown nothing of their true
passion. Were two gay actors, unafraid of sex scenes, not available?
Not to mention the possible incestuous undertow between Farrell and
Jolie, who - at a year older in real life is far too young to be Alexanders
mother, even with her bizarre makeup. And, for all the claims about
historical accuracy to try to make Alexander the Great into a
latter-day globalist is downright silly. He lusted for power and men.
What made him different than despots before was simply his military
genius- of which we see precious little of displayed in the film. Instead
of tactics Farrell yips on his horse, spurring his men to victory with
a generous dollop of clichés.
In short, Alexander fails not for many of the reasons the major critics
roasted it (although to be fair, I dont know just how different
the filmic and DVD versions are) but because it has too much breadth,
and not enough depth. Accordingly- while not terrible, its not
great. Flip a coin over whether its passable and either way youre
© Dan Schneider Oct 2005
Visit Dan at www.Cosmoetica.com
see also Jersey Girl now
See also Close Range: Wyoming
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.