Whilst it may not be the complete disaster US critics have suggested, Alexander is riddled with flaws and suprisingly for an Oliver Stone film curiously dull and lifeless.
With the worldwide success of Gladiator in 2000 it was only a matter of time before Hollywood turned to the story of Alexander The Great. His extraordinary life seemed perfect for the big screen and so when Oliver Stone started this film before Baz Lurhmann’s rival project it seemed a mouth-watering prospect. However the final result is a crushing disappointment. The film tries to cover the whole of Alexander’s life and his story is narrated via flashback by the older Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins). We see him as a young child learning how to tame a horse and being tutored by Aristotle. It then follows his life as he struggles with his two bickering parents Philip (Val Kilmer) and Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and leads his kingdom into a sprawling military crusade through the Ancient World.
At the heart of the film lie some truly bizarre creative decisions that derail it early on. Why give Alexander and his fellow warriors Irish accents? Why does Jolie have a comedy Russian accent as well as a snake fetish? Why does she look the same age as Alexander? Perhaps Stone wanted to reflect the mix of different cultures at the time, but it doesn’t work and ends up being distracting. If the main characters never really convince then the supporting cast add even less to the film. Hephaistion (Jared Leto) is never fully realised as Alexander’s male lover and his wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson) is similarly underwritten. In trying to encompass all the historical conquests the film loses sight of the characters and the motives behind their actions.
Oliver Stone has never been a director to shy away from big subjects (the Vietnam War, JFK, Nixon) and his best work has benefited from that ambition with its inventive use of film styles and raw power. To be fair, the two battle scenes are well staged. The vast conflict at Guagemela between the Greeks and Persians shows how messy and complicated battles might have been and the final showdown in India conveys the blood-drenched insanity of Alexander’s quest. But these highlights only serve to emphasise how poor the remainder is. It is perhaps unique for an Oliver Stone film – it’s boring.