December 13, 2011

Queer Review: Alexander (2004)

Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, and Laeta Kalogridis
Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Plummer, Rory McCann, Gary Stretch, Ian Beattie

Note: This is the review of Alexander - The Director's Cut. I have not had a chance to see any of the other versions, such as Alexander Revisted - The Final Cut, as of this posting.

Oliver Stone's bio-pic of the most influential queer in all of history - Alexander the Great, "conqueror of the known world" - is unfortunately something of a dud. Confusing battle scenes, an unnecessary use of non-chronological storytelling, and a weak lead performance all conspire to create a movie far short of greatness.

Following the assignation of his father, King Philip II (Val Kilmer), Alexander of Macedonia (Colin Farrell) began a campaign to avenge his death, that ultimately took him all the way across the Middle East and into India. Even once Darius III (Raz Degan) - the one suspected of orchestrating the murder of Philip I - is dead, Alexander continues onward, driven by an extraordinary thirst for greatness and other inexplicable forces. Along the way, for the purpose of producing a heir, Alexander marries Roxana (Rosario Dawson), much to the consternation and jealousy of Alexander's lover Hephaestion (Jared Leto).

The Queering
I am not sure where Alexander went wrong. Most obviously, I think is that Oliver Stone took on more than he could handle, thereby making an ambitious but ultimately flawed movie. I give Stone credit for being willing to take on a project of this nature, where multiple competing interests had to have placed undue strain and pressure on the project itself. On one hand, I think Stone set out to make a movie that was honest to the known historical record, namely that Alexander had a relationship with Hephestian that was most likely both of a romantic and sexual nature. Unfortunately, the final result only shows how easily compromised even the best directors can become when working with a large budget.

It might not have been too bad, after all great pains are taken to show the depth of feelings that Alexander and Hephestian had for each other and the two are frequently shown being affectionate. However, while Alexander is shown actually having sex with Roxana, we get nary a hint that Hephestian and the conqueror of the known world did anything other then embody a certain stereotype often applied to lesbians, as we only ever see them cuddling. The double standard employed here is something I found rather troubling.

Beyond that, Alexander simply is not a terribly good film. The battle sequences are nicely shot but are edited in such a way that sucks both tension and coherency from them. Narration provided by Ptolomy sheds little insight into anything important and only serve to bog down the plot. Furthermore, the non-chronological way Stone choose to tell the story does little to keep proceedings from becoming tedious.

There are a few good things about Alexander. The recreations of ancient Babylon and other areas of the ancient world is beyond impressive. The historical accuracy, while not perfect, is damn good for a Hollywood flick. A few battles were condensed and one might assume that Alexander was plagerized by Virgil, given Alexander's perchance for quoting the writer some 200 years before Virgil was born but on the whole, more effort than usual was put into respecting the established historical record. Also, Angelina Jolie gives a beguiling performance as Alexander's mother, Queen Olympias, a woman who spends a great deal of time cuddling with snakes.

Unfortunately, Jolie gives the most memorable performance in the entire film. Collin Farrell is wishy washy performance as the titular character and Val Kilmer is given little to of interest to do as King Philip II. No one else, with maybe the exception of Jared Leto and Rosario Dawson, is really around enough to leave much of an impression.

In the end, the greatest crime is the lack of insight into Alexander's character. By the end of the film we know little of what motivated him beyond the standerd pop psychology explanation of "he had unresolved mommy/daddy issues". Combined with Farrell's problematic lead performance, and it becomes hard to for me to defend the movie when so much is wrong with the development of the lead character.

Unfortunately, greatness eludes this Alexander. Not worth the trouble to seek out unless one has a strong interest in the subject matter or in watered down depictions of queer love in mainstream movies.

The Rating


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