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. "Alexander"

Looking back on the life of the greatest conqueror of ancient times, Alexander, King of Macedon, one should expect great grandeur, sweeping battles, royal intrigues, valiant heroes and vast, colorful landscapes. Director Oliver Stone ("JFK") gives it all to us in his movie version, with enough devotion to historical detail to muddle the mind.

While this epic that deals with the scale of conquest takes place in ancient Greece (recounted for us by Anthony Hopkins as elder historian Ptolemy long after the battles) the difference between it and other classic dramas is that it's based on an historical account and not on Homeric poetry and exalted visions.

And, while stories of Achilles, the Trojan War, Odysseus and gods and goddesses of the Pantheon have been well treated in movie re-creations, little has been done with this terror of the battlefield. If there ever was a figure in history deserving study for what he accomplished against great armies, in changing governments and political geography, it would be this king-warrior.

For a man to have been able to expand his empire to the extent Axexander did, he had to have at least two essential qualities: thoroughly inspiring leadership and uncanny skills of battle strategy. Such a record of conquest would be unthinkable without them. A dream of glory, by itself, is hardly the basis of triumph. Director Oliver Stone's dream is to convince us of his hero's skills and magnetism but his strategy proves less than triumphant.

Young Alexander (Connor Paolo), born sometime around 356 BC, son of King Philip (Val Kilmer) and Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie), sopped up wisdom first from his mother's uncle Leonidas, then the scholar, Lysimaho. In his teens he was tutored by the legendary philosopher, Aristotle (Christopher Plummer) and proved to be a good pupil, loving knowledge and the epic poetry of Homer. He became close friends with Hephaestion (Jared Leto) who remained his most trusted ally throughout their brief lives. Their homosexual scenes might be bothersome to some, erotic to others, but won't be disregarded in the press.

Alexander's early physical prowess is demonstrated when he wins his magnificent black stallion Bucephalas by proving himself able to manage the ornery beast when no other horseman could, inspiring Philip to tutor him in the ways of power by way of conquest. But all is not serene or stable in the royal household between the king and his estranged wife. She showers her son with affection and visions of his great destiny despite the coldness in Philip's regard for her.

Philip finally divorces Olympias, who is not Macedonian, and remarries, this time to a local girl. When this produces a son and possible heir, the girl's uncle starts a campaign to belittle Alexander as pretender to the throne since he's only half Macedonian and the son of a divorced wife. Olympia's sensors are ignited by this change in the political winds and she inspires Alexander to attack Attalus. His father is greatly offended.

The family breach is eventually mended but without Phillip's complete forgiveness. When Philip is murdered before his new son grows to a satisfactory age, Alexander succeeds him as king.

Jumping now to the full-fledged warrior some years later Alexander (Colin Farrell) plans his march on the armies of Persia and King Darius of Babylon. Disagreeing with his generals' aversion to risk, he establishes his battlefield preference for daring, unexpected thrusts of combat. The battle is fierce and played out in dust storm rage until it becomes a melange of competitive butchery in the swirling desert dust. Aerial shots attempt to keep us up on its progress but the course of the battle doesn't become clear until Alexander emerges from the fog and sand and confronts Darius himself. When the shocked Darius gallops off the field of battle, the win goes to Alexander. Soon thereafter, the victor and his army enter the magnificence of the Babylonian capital where he begins to re-invent the society before continuing his 22,000 mile march.

Having Farrell play this role is a welcome respite from the usual suspects in sword and sandal roles, like Brad Pitt (who was up for the role of Hephaistion but turned it down on the advice of his wife, Jennifer Anniston). Farrell's acquital of the role of action hero is all right, but he might have been better advised to remain in his "Phone Booth." At the head of an army, he doesn't come close to conveying the kind of natural leadership that Russell Crowe carried off so easily last year in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" as Capt. Jack Aubrey.

Kilmer fills Philip's royal robes with a looseness and borderline dissolution while asserting the power of his bloodline. I was glad to see him not depicted as a simple bully. In a matchup against Jolie, however, her presence is dominant.

While one might expect this Greek mother who charms snakes and has a capacity to plan venomously to be, herself, a cliched villain hissing in the ear of a son who will bring her wealth and power. But she's given more dimension here by Jolie, with a more complex fascination, and an exotic accent. She balances her character's astute political analysis and intrigue with a style and cunning that takes the role into creative territory. After the awe of the battles and the majesty of the landscapes, the most fascinating element of this movie is the way Jolie rules the screen. That confident allure is evident in much of her work ("The Bone Collector," "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow") but she only improves and advances it. The beauty is one thing -- this woman's star power shoots comets and demands attention.

In another engaging role, Rosario Dawson is as spirited as a colt in her portrayal of Roxane, the exotic queen of a far Asian territory whom Alexander takes as his first wife. What a good choice she is with sculpted features and skin like polished obsidian.

Stone and his writing collaborators, Christopher Kyle ("The Widowmaker") and Laeta Kalogridis try, in their 173 minute movie, to tell it all: ascendance to the throne, royal politics, accuracy of ancient combat, geo-political expansion, homoerotic customs, sexual intrigue, etc. But this devotion to the totality of the history weigh down the drama with a tiring, confusing endlessness.

Stone makes the point that Alexander's drive to conquer had something to do with a compulsion to explore, to march eastward in a search for the end of the world or to witness for himself the source of great stories and myths about surrounding kingdoms and territories. He is a zealot in the pursuit of geographical truth who won't let his army return home after years of war until he sates his questioning nature or dies in the attempt.

Oliver Stone's drive to tell the story with integrity to history defeats him, though, along with the choice to go with the hot actor rather than the right one. Perhaps his greatest miscalculation was to let history be his guide when the lesson of successful Greek and Roman historical movies is to take all the dramatic license necessary to keep the blood boiling, including fictional characters ("Gladiator") and selective scope ("Troy.") Integrity to historical totality may well be admired on an academic level, but it can undo the drama we come for. Stone will be the last person to agree that even a great story can and should be told in two hours.

But, I salute his effort and thereby give it a few points. Others have called it an honorable failure, with which I can't disagree. The overall accomplishment is great enough for me to urge people to see it and to make me feel guilty about harping about its debilitating drift.

"Alexander," the movie, is not as great as its subject, though it serves the good purpose of bringing the amazing story to our attention. Alexander's record of conquest and expansion, however, is not likely to fulfill any visions the filmmaker may be harboring about Oscar glory.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  
                                                  (aka, The Filmiliar Cineaste)


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written
This review will influence me to see this movie
Site rating: 8

                                                          ~~ Philip G.
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 4

The movie is a major bomb. An incoherent mess. Farrell is so mis-cast, that this movie will be a set-back to a very promising career. The script is very confusing and leaves the audience wondering what is going on and who is doing what to whom.

                                                          ~~ Dick B.
Well written, Insightful
This review will influence me to see this movie
Site rating: 8

                                                          ~~ Harold B.
Poorly written
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 2

It's one of the worst movies I've ever seen. The dialogue was mediocre at best.

                                                          ~~ H. Thomas
Very well written, Insightful
I agree with the review and will get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer!
Site rating: 10

It was cool!

                                                          ~~ Bud F.
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 3

The worst film every made (comparing to other films of its enormity in cost and star actors).

                                                          ~~ Gary
Well written
This review will influence me to skip this movie

Bloat does not a good movie make.

                                                          ~~ BarbieCat
Well written
This review will influence me to see this movie
Site rating: 8

                                                          ~~ Larry D.
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer

I found you through Rotten Tomatoes and enjoyed the perspective you brought to your review. Keep up the good work and I will check you out on some normal movies.

                                                          ~~ Frank D.
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 8

It gives a clear understanding of the movie...It's very good.

                                                          ~~ davi
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 7

This movie was awful. Colin Farrell looked worse than Richard Burton in the original.

                                                          ~~ Anne T.
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer Site rating: 6

colin farrell was awful, jolie's accent sounded like a Russion spy but I thought the rest fabulous!

                                                          ~~ T. T.

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Colin Farrell as King Alexander of Macedon
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