Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Germany/USA/The Netherlands/France/United Kingdom/Italy, 2004. Warner Bros., Intermedia Films, Pacifica Film, Egmond Film & Television, France 3 Cinéma, IMF Internationale Medien und Film GmbH & Co. 3. Produktions KG, Pathé Renn Productions, WR Universal Group. Screenplay by Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Produced by Moritz Borman, Jon Kilik, Thomas Schuhly, Iain Smith. Music by Vangelis. Production Design by Jan Roelfs. Costume Design by Jenny Beaven. Film Editing by Yann Herve, Gladys Joujou, Alex Marquez, Thomas J. Nordberg.
Oh thank you, Gladiator, for convincing filmmakers everywhere that anyone can make a sword-and-toga epic worth its weight in millions. In 2004, audiences were first assaulted with the boredom of Troy and are now made to suffer the slightly superior but still ridiculous tedium of Oliver Stone’s epic. It encapsulates, in three brief goddamn hours, the life and legend of the hero of the Hellenistic age, Alexander, who leads his armies to victory all the way from his kingdom of Macedonia to India and back again. Alexander conquered the world at a mere 25 years old, then eight years later died of an illness whose nature has been lost to time, but whose untimeliness has created a folkloric hero of mythic proportions: in short, he was the world’s first rock star.
Colin Farrell does a more than adequate job (but really, what’s with the blond hair and black roots) of bringing the legend to the screen, powerfully strong when inspiring his men to action and vulnerable in his relationships with those closest to the king’s heart. Unfortunately, Oliver Stone’s imagination doesn’t reach far beyond his visual palette (it’s definitely the most beautiful film the provocateur has ever made), and Farrell is left to deliver listless speeches that feel as if they were taken from the cutting room floors of better movies like Braveheart. Where does it improve on Troy, you ask? Chiefly in the richer cultural detail, which does the most astonishing job of creating mammoth sets of the ancient world since 1963’s (equally bloated but shutup I love it) Cleopatra, and in the performances. Aside from Farrell, Jared Leto is romantically sympathetic as Alexander’s lifelong love Hephaistion (Cinema Lecture Series Subject #1: Gay Men Who Hug A Lot), Rosario Dawson is stunning as his wife Roxane and Angelina Jolie perfectly cast (despite the truly weird accent) as Alexander’s skilfully cunning mother Olympias.
What the whole thing is really all about, though, Stone doesn’t seem to know. For all his effort, Alexander himself remains a pale, unknowable character, not in the sense of being iconic (which was probably the director’s aim), but more in the sense of being really boring. We’re never told what fueled the young man’s ambition, nor are we asked to guess beyond a few hints at his father (Val Kilmer) intimidating him and his mother scaring him with her freaky snakes. Eventually, our understanding him so little makes his monologues uninteresting and the battle scenes uninvolving. Maybe I would have gone to war for the guy, and maybe I would have gone to bed with him (I actually like the blond hair-black roots thing, reminds me of Madonna in her Lucky Star days), but I’m pretty sure I would have never have been caught dead hanging out with such a drip, so why watch him for so long? See it if you’re curious, starstruck, or into the costumes, but avoid it if you’re looking to learn something, experience something deeply emotional or watch Colin Farrell kissing guys (A Home At The End Of The World accomplished more of this in less time). It’s a shame this film isn’t better, because its good moments are really Great, but the rest of it is merely Alexander The So-So.