Film — Alexander (R)
by Amy Diaz
Oliver Stone gives the Macedonian super king the Richard Nixon treatment in the soapy, melodrama-filled biopic Alexander.
Soapy, melodrama-filled and long. Alexander’s life, despite being told rather choppily, feels like it unfolds in real time. Much like his ever-suffering army, we in the audience must slog through three, at times painful, hours of grinding movie. What makes the story seems like such a death march? Well, for one, there’s the accents. Apparently the ancient Greeks spoke with variations of Irish and English accents, except for Angelina Jolie (playing Alexander’s mother Olympias), who sounds like My Big Fat Greek Nosferatu. There’s a story-telling technique which jumps over battles and the conquest of places such as Egypt and assorted near-Eastern city-states to give us large chunks of time featuring guys traveling through the desert. There are the actors who range from full-body sobs to immobility but never once actually hit the right note with their characters. And then there’s the obligatory Stoneian touches of conspiracy, unfulfilled greatness and mother issues.
You see, Alexander (Farrell) had one psychologically confusing childhood. His mother Olympias was a snake charmer, possibly a sorceress and definitely a social climber. She hated with a passion her husband, Alexander’s father, King Philip (Val Kilmer) and was forever claiming that the “royal blood of Achilles” ran in her veins and that Alexander was the son of Zeus. But despite watching his mother curse and fight off her husband and despite being an incredible mama’s boy, Alexander still yearns for his father’s approval. The need for Philip’s unconditional love becomes even more important when Philip takes a new young Greek wife, one who not only allows him to become king of the neighboring country but who also provides him with another son.
Alexander bristles at the new marriage but luckily for him, his father dies when Alexander’s half brother is only an infant and Alexander is quickly crowned king. He doesn’t do the standard kingly thing and marry a nice Macedonian or Greek girl and start producing the heirs. Instead, he, his best friend/ boyfriend Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and a group of glory-seeking young men set off to conquer the known world. We catch up with them in Persia, where they fight and defeat the furious king who rules his empire from Babylon. After creaming his Persian opponents, Alexander and his boys march into Babylon, which proves to be the New York City of its day, all sky-scraping stone buildings and hanging gardens, Alexander finds himself not only impressed with his plunder but impressed by his new subjects. He formulates a plan — capture all the lands to the east and make Babylon the center of a brave new borderless world where people and information flow freely between countries.
His men, on the other hand, are perfectly happy with the gold and the harem full of the previous king’s girlfriends and don’t seem all that keen on setting off into the unknown wilderness in search of some dubious conquest. Thus begins a series of conquests, of lands in the Afghanistan/ India area, wherein each new stop brings decreasingly valuable and distant territories and an increasingly disgruntled army.
Despite being in love with Hephaistion and in lust with a series of swishy boys from his captured lands, Alexander eventually decides to marry a woman. He picks Roxane (Rosario Dawson) the politically worthless but scrappy daughter of some tribal chieftain in the near East hinterland. She’s not so keen on sharing her husband with the cow-eyed Hephaistion but her ability to complain diminishes as days go by and she shows no signs of sprouting an heir.
You know, change Hephaistion to Dixie Courtland, Roxane to Brooke English and Alexander to Tad Martin and you have the exact same plot of an early 1990s season of All My Children. (Though, with her scheming, Olympias is really more like a hot Victoria Buchanan than the quiet Ruth Martin.)
Alexander turns Alexander into an almost insufferable weenie. He’s indecisive. At 20, he’s so attached to his mother you wonder if he’s still nursing (and the creepy Oedipal overtones suggest that if he isn’t, he’d maybe like to). He’s desperate for his father’s attention. He wants to conquer the world but, more importantly, he wants the world to like him. He’s big on the whole treating-all-men-as-equals but doesn’t listen to some of the more common-sense advice of his men — even if you believe in a flat earth where a central land mass is bordered by an outer ocean, if you can’t find it after 10 years maybe it’s time to go home.
Is it any wonder his mother gives him the occasional smack and tells him, essentially, to snap out of it and be smart?
Olympias, of course, is of the same tragic cloth of Mary Steenburgen’s Mama Nixon character in Stone’s Nixon. Jolie slinks around, evoking everything from Eve to Medea to Medusa, offering up advice that basically boils down to watch your back, consolidate your base and call home already. Of course, such advice delivered in the Indistinguishable Accent of Evil while snakes slither around her arms sounds a lot more sinister.
Equaling her in silliness, if not in pizzazz, Rosario Dawson pounces and growls in her lovemaking scene with Farrell. For all the kafuffle over the gayness of Stone’s Alexander, it’s the heterosexual scenes that come off as ridiculous.
Stone skips through time and over events in an attempt to create a cohesive story but in doing so he leaves out much of the history that could make Alexander’s life interesting. Sure, a poli-sci geek might delight in a Nixon-like psychology-of-the-man deconstruction of a figure who rose and fell within living memory. But for a figure like Alexander, whether or not he suffered childhood trauma from his parents is less interesting than the actual things he did. While we get a few battle scenes, a few discussions of conquest strategy, the movie is way too short on actual information about a ruler who isn’t as well known to modern audiences.
Great? Unfortunately, this Alexander is just grating.
- Amy Diaz
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH