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Time Out says‘Gladiator’ and its prodigal spawn aside, why make a movie about antiquity’s greatest conqueror? Alexander the Great’s 12-year blitzkrieg from Macedonia through the Persian Empire, Egypt and east to India, starting when he was just 20, may be mind-boggling in the abstract – Caesar was famously awed – but on the ground it was a long bloody haul that left his troops exhausted and wimpering mutiny. He had a wacky mum, Olympias, who – per Plutarch – took snakes for bedmates; a quarrelsome dad in the ill-fated Philip I; and an ambiguous sex life perhaps distinguished less by the standard pederasty of his times than by a longtime companionship with his buddy Hephaistion.
Oliver Stone gives himself three hours to make shape of this history, but flails from the start. The screenplay stuffs reams of waffly exposition in the mouth of Anthony Hopkins’ Old Ptolemy, doddering around a kitsch Alexandrian academy, while the action hopscotches among various key episodes – horse-taming triumphs, battles, assassinations and drunken revels – with Stone’s increasingly pronounced mix of leering attention and towering distractibility.
Equally, he can’t choose between pomp and pulp; the result occasionally hits Pythonesque travesty, but too often falls flabbily flat. Angelina Jolie essays a lurid Olympias, but she’s left in lock-up, talking to the walls. Alexander’s manly fancies shy at bedroom eyes and the drabbest innuendo. As the great man, Colin Farrell battles uphill against his blond wigs, contagious black eyeliner, and Stone’s tipsy camera shakes. Finally, Ptolemy hazards a tragic moral – something about Alexander’s loneliness and distaste for the incomprehending – but Stone’s conception tops out at live-large, die-young. In keeping, it’s his most wildly boring film since ‘The Doors’.
Fri Jan 7, 2005