There are many worthwhile things that might be done with $150 million; making a movie like this isn’t one of them. (And I doubt that the director, Oliver Stone, will be entrusted with that kind of budget again anytime in the near future.) Back in the 4th Century BC, Alexander the Great took eight years to conquer the known world of his time. The best that can be said about “Alexander,” the movie, is that it isn’t quite that long. (It runs nearly three hours.) The picture is so thoroughly ridiculous, it’s hard to know where to begin in listing its infelicities. But I’ll try.
First of all, just totally at random, Colin Farrell, who plays Alexander (with a blond dye-job), is 28 years old; Angelina Jolie, who plays his mother, Olympias, is 29. Olympias has a thing for snakes — she purrs through the movie with vipers thrown over her shoulder or wrapped around her leg or just left lying all a-squirm on the floor of her palace boudoir. Why? Dunno. She also speaks in some sort of indeterminate Carpathian accent, for reasons that eluded me, if they even exist.
The movie is narrated — and narrated and narrated — by Alexander’s boyhood friend, Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins). At a point many years after Alexander’s death, we see Ptolemy, now old and tiresome, doddering about his palace recounting the Great’s many exploits and trying to shovel in as much ancient historical context as possible, in vain hope of giving the audience some faint idea of what’s going on. His incessant drone, clotted with phrases like “the loins of war,” is the picture’s overriding annoyance. Although you do kind of chuckle when he lets rip with, “It is said that Alexander was never defeated, except by Hephaistion’s thighs.” Hephaistion is another of Alexander’s childhood chums, although in this case, one with whom he has a sexual relationship. We’re not about to actually see these two men having sex, of course — not in a $150 million Hollywood movie — so we’re treated instead to many sultry looks and steamy comments, all of them hilarious. (“You have eyes like no other,” Hephaistion murmurs at one point.) The director appears to be aiming for a tone of bold homoeroticism — who knew that ancient armies traveled with contingents of simpering (it’s the only word) young sex slaves, and that these ill-used boys apparently pioneered the art of mascara-application? But since Stone has no knack for eroticism of any sort, the result is a procession of increasingly silly scenes. For example, after Alexander marries a woman named Roxane (played by Rosario Dawson, lumbered with another vaguely “foreign” accent), she catches him in their bedroom trading smoldery confidences with Hephaistion. “You luff heem?” she asks, with understandable pique. “There are many different ways to love,” Alexander replies suavely, as Roxane backs away, possibly not wanting to see any of them demonstrated. (Dawson later features nakedly in the movie’s only unabashedly heterosexual interlude.)
There are two big, expensively staged battles in “Alexander,” but their action is largely a function of blurry camera work and whip-bang editing; they’re otherwise incoherent. Somebody shouts “Prepare to repel chariots!” Then there’s a bunch of leaping and grunting and clanging. Then Alexander, riding ahead of his men into battle, yells over his shoulder, “Left turn!” And then … no, I can’t go on. Or wait, yes I can: The soundtrack score of this movie, by the Greek synth virtuoso Vangelis, is an abomination in itself, an ugly mush of oozing string washes, pounding tympanis, swooning chorales and tiny tinkling chimes. There’s no one up on the screen at any point suffering as much abuse as the audience that’s forced to endure this aural assault.
Colin Farrell is a good actor, and his career will survive this movie. So will Angelina Jolie’s. And of course Anthony Hopkins, having previously lent his presence to the execrable “Hannibal,” obviously has no serious concerns about his own professional future. But Oliver Stone hasn’t directed a movie that anyone took seriously since the 1994 “Natural Born Killers” (and why anybody took that film seriously remains a mystery). To say that his career was in disarray before “Alexander” is an understatement. To say that it’s in trouble now is unavoidable.