Alexander the Not-So-Hot

Oliver Stone aims for respectability

Of course, the same could easily be said of the treatment Rayand Finding Neverland afford their subjects, and while Alexander is doubtless the best of the three, it's also the one that has the highest standard to live up to—Stone's own. In his earlier biopics, particularly JFKand Nixon, Stone employed multiple film stocks and some dazzling feats of picture and sound editing to achieve a remarkable sense of multiple, simultaneously occurring realities—the world as viewed by his subject, and his subject as viewed by the world around him. And he populated the edges of those stories with armies of supporting characters—some based on real people, others freely invented—so vivid that they frequently threatened to usurp the very figures they were supposedly supporting. (Think Tommy Lee Jones in JFK or Bob Hoskins in Nixon.) Those movies were compulsively watchable even—or especially—when the ideas they were espousing were at their looniest. By comparison, Alexander—in its imagery and its ideology—doesn't just feel restrained, it feels anesthetized. It's the first of Stone's films that craves respectability and the only one that makes you wish Baz Luhrmann had directed it instead.

RESPECTABLE AS IT MAY BE, Alexander is also a thudding bore when what it should have been is an operatic testament to unchecked ambition—Stone's Aguirre or his Fitzcarraldo. In a particularly perverse gesture, the first battle scene doesn't come until nearly one-third of the way through the picture, when an outnumbered Alexander brazenly descends on Darius at Guagamela. And while, as battle scenes go, this is a pretty good one, with a potent sense of real human bone and sinew that was missing from the big set pieces of Troy, it's scarcely adequate compensation for soldiering through the rest of Alexander. The borderline-incestuous mother love between Alexander and Olympias; the tender comradeship between Alexander and his soul mate, Hephaistion (well-played by an eye-shadowy Jared Leto); the strategic marriage of Alexander to his barbarian wife, Roxane (Rosario Dawson)—Stone gets to the marrow of none of these. Only very late in the film's third hour, during an elaborate (and admittedly spectacular) re-creation of Alexander's battle against the pachyderm-led forces of the Indian king Porus, does Stone seem to snap awake from his slumber to assert his authorship of the film. After a breathtaking succession of towering spears being crushed like toothpicks and human bodies flung about by elephant tusks, we arrive at that majestic shot of Alexander's horse, Bucephalus, rearing on its hind legs to confront a similarly positioned elephant. When Alexander is wounded by an arrow piercing his armor, the images onscreen go red, as though the film stock had been developed in a solution of Alexander's own blood. And so Alexander sparks to life mere screen minutes before its eponymous hero swallows his last breath.

ALEXANDER was Directed by OLIVER STONE;Written by STONE, CHRISTOPHER KYLE and LAETA KALOGRIDIS; Produced by THOMAS SCHÜHLY, JON KILIK, IAIN SMITH and MORITZ BORMAN; and stars Colin Farrell, angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer. Now playing countywide.

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