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IN SHORT: All epic with no heart leaves Alexander dead in the water. But wait! There's more . . . [Rated R by the MPAA for violence and some sexuality/nudity. 170 minutes]
If you have no stomach for visuals of body parts flying in all directions or the use of severed heads as battle clubs, you won't make it through Oliver Stone's Alexander. Our stomach handled Alexander just fine, thank you very much. The bigger question for us was whether or not our legendary bad back could handle a theater seat almost three hours? It held out just fine, as Alexander didn't "feel" any longer than your average two hour Oscar wannabe flick. At least it didn't the first time we sat for it, at an exclusive screening for those holding Directors Guild cards. Directors at these screenings are well practiced in not revealing their reactions, but they are not loathe to applaud a job well done by a fellow director. The director's did not applaud. We waited two weeks to see the film again, since the whole raison d'etre of this site is to report the reactions of non-film student "real" people.
Oliver Stone did not set out to make a comedy. He is doing his damndest to make an Epic, which is what Oliver Stone always set out to do. When real people planted for this Epic, those real people laughed their butts off. We consider the reaction the equivalent of the one we saw with The Exorcist many years ago. If the audience is right, the movie is a great one. If anyone cracks a giggle, the war is over.
Most of the review that follows was penned after the first, more respectful screening:
We had no problem with Alexander as far as its length or the sexual habits of the title character -- we knew what we were getting into long before the lights went down, and anyone past the age at which you learn the various meanings of things like "French" or "English" or "Greek" shouldn't have any problem with the one male to male kiss that is the extent of anything actually visualized on screen. That the kissee is a Boy George clone who keeps popping up again and again as a servant of the hero and anything else of the non-hetero kind is more suggested than anything else. Depending on what kind of audience you're sitting with it will either fly by quickly or will yield snickers at the tackiness of it all.
Our big question about Alexander rested solely on the question as to whether or not star (Colin Farrell) could carry this epic without getting overwhelmed by visual spectacle of it all. Nope, spectacle wins out. Then again, Farrell does manage to overact his lines with a straight face and holds the whole thing on an even keel until near to the closing scenes of the film, when a death scene pushed us beyond caring. We won't tell you if it's his character or someone close to him in the film, just in case you manage to sit with an audience that manages to refrain from letting loose. Farrell is a good actor but not yet great enough to overcome the momentous obstacles that a Stone Epic places in his path.
Beginning with his education at the feet of Aristotle (Christopher Plummer) and the formation of a life long friendship with Hephaistion (Jared Leto), Alexander is the son of an abusive father -- Philip, King of Macedonia (Val Kilmer) and manipulative mother Olympia (Angelina Jolie). As an adult, Alexander (Farrell) would lead armies to dominate three quarters of the known world before he reached the age of thirty, and then drop dead two years later. The motivation for conquest was nothing more than simple revenge, against Darius III, Shah of Persia (Raz Degan), who arranged the assassination of dear ol' dad. Once the deed is done, Alexander installs his family in charge of the captured city of Babylon and takes his army eastward in pursuit of what is left of the former ruling class. Then he continues in search of the Eastern Ocean that Aristotle taught about. In between, our Hero is attracted by the gyrations of a dancer who entertains the victorious troops and takes the lovely Roxanne (Rosario Dawson) to wife .
The historical story is narrated by lifelong friend and historian, the pharaoh Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins as an old man and Elliot Cowan as the younger battle hardened general), and features only two of the major conquests of Alexander's life (the conquest of Egypt is buried in Ptolemy's narration). First is the pursuit of and death of Darius. Second, a 'vision goes red with battle fury' bit against Indians riding high on top of battle elephants provides the best visual in the film and a piece will more than likely be used again and again as the PR machine kicks into gear. Structurally, Stone waits until close to the end to recreate the assassination of Phillip, a full hour after we thought the script intentionally skipped over it. He waits to do this to make A POINT about the nature of Alexander's command. Depending on your audience it either works or it doesn't.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Alexander, he would have paid . . .
Take the chance and see it, if only for the visuals that keep your eyes happy in between laughs. If your audience stays quiet, Alexander is a fast moving epic. If they don't, it is a fast moving dumb popcorn movie. Else, wait for the DVD to hit the stores.
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