Movie review: "Alexander" by Oliver Stone

Printer-friendly version

Official site and IMDb page:

Oliver Stone makes me feel uneasy. I think "Natural Born Killers" is a gratuitous parade of violent content, with no message worth the bother. I kinda shrugged at "Any Given Sunday" - again, gratuitous violence and no message i could care about. "JFK", "Born on the Fourth of July", yeah, those were cool. "The Doors" - one of the most ambiguous movies i've ever seen, i love it as much as i hate it.
And here comes this new movie, "Alexander". I went to see it mostly because the music is made by a composer i admire - Vangelis. I went there kinda prepared to listen to the music on the background of the movie :-) as it were. I came out thoroughly impressed by the whole thing.
I love this movie. I don't care what the critics say. I just think it's great. Read on to find out why.

I think the key to the whole movie was Oliver Stone's view of the main character as a person whose ideals were as high as his capabilities to fulfill them. There's this widespread idea that Alexander was one of the greatest military leaders of all times - and it is true. Very few generals, across the whole history of mankind, can boast such brilliant successes, which are made even greater by the fact that Alexander lived at a time when the world was "bigger" simply because the technology was still very, very primitive. It's one thing for someone like Napoleon to conquer, like, the entire Europe, at a time when the technology made it almost easy to travel great distances. It's an entirely different thing to conquer thousands and thousands of miles worth of land at a time when mankind was barely figuring out simple mechanical devices, no engines existed yet, and the weapons were only as strong as the muscular power of their bearers.
And yet, there seems to be something beyond "mere" military genius about Alexander. Remember the scene with Hephaistion when Alexander reveals his plans about future contests - "the Latin tribes - awesome fighters!" and the whole of Europe and the rest... There's something truly visionary about Alexander at that moment, the dream of uniting the world under one rule, not just for the pleasure of conquest, but to facilitate communications, and travel, and trade between lands far away. It was essentially what the Roman Empire achieved across an effort that encompassed hundreds of years and brought together, over time, the genius of many exceptional military leaders such as Caesar. Under the rule of Rome ("pax romana") communications and travel and commerce did indeed flourish, creating one of the brightest islands of civilisation in the ancient world.
All that, Alexander was dreaming to accomplish in the short span of his own life. It does not seem impossible that he could have done that, barring his untimely demise in unclear circumstances.

I think this is the Alexander that the movie tried to present - the visionary, the man who dreamed about One World, the dream that the Romans had but could only partially accomplish, and the dream that pretty much all great civilisations had - and the dream that mankind is still pursuing but is far from accomplishing still.
I think this is the key to understanding why the movie received so much bad press. It appears that a purely idealistic message is unwelcome nowadays, unless that message is tied somehow into something else to make it more palatable to the dull senses of many of the present-day moviegoers. To pick examples from O. Stone's own movies - "Born on the Fourth of July" was just such an idealistic movie, but any commoner could grasp its meaning because, lo and behold, it's about social issues, it's about the Vietnam War and it's like a rehash of all things that brought the flower-power generation to fame. Great movie, right?
And here comes "Alexander", which is full of ideals, and actually a whole lot more so than "...Fourth of July", but does not bother tying them to more down-to-earth attention-grabbers. The result? Everyone complains about bad acting (?), self-plagiarism (right, when it's good it's "author's unmistakable signature", when it's bad it's "self-plagiarism") and... holy crap, gratuitous violence!
Well, DUH, Alexander was not exactly Gandhi, what did you expect? For perhaps the first time, Stone's tendency to splatter blood across the whole width of the screen serves a good purpose - hey, this is how those victories were accomplished, this is what it took to get there.
Some so-called movie critics had the nerve to suggest viewing "Spongebob" instead. Well, buddies, if that's all your dull minds can grasp, there's no wonder why you didn't "get" Alexander. It takes a living spirit to lighten up to ideals.

Anyway, acting - i think it was good. Perhaps not exceptional. Perhaps it took some courage to give the main character to Colin Farell. The guy actually does a good job. I was convinced he was going to botch it. He didn't. At least one side of Alexander's spirit gets very well outlined - the huge energy of the military leader. And that monologue, too, about the great future civilisation, is delivered pretty well.
Val Kilmer creates a flawless Philip, a character that's truly alive and palpable, albeit his mission was not too complicated. Angelina Jolie is remarkable as Alexander's mother, but then... she usually is. I think Jared Leto built an outstanding Hephaistion, not an easy mission given the connotations of his character.

And that brings me to the next issue. Alexander was homosexual. The movie leaves not a shade of doubt about it. There were some voices criticizing it for that - well, that's how things were back then, homosexuals didn't carry any social stigma. After all, it's an R-rated movie, if you're easily offended then feel free to not watch it. Duh, again.

Like i said, the initial reason why i went to see the movie was the music. It is made by Vangelis, the Greek composer that made the music for such movies as "Blade Runner", "1492: The Conquest of Paradise" and, of course, "Chariots of Fire". But movie music is just one (rather less important) part of Vangelis' work. Pioneering innovative techniques such as the use of the synthesizer in the 60s and the 70s, Vangelis is one of the aknowledged leaders of the electronic music. Myself, i believe he's the greatest composer alive. There's a sense of majesty and an intrinsic beauty and a broad scale to his music that is difficult to find in another composers' works. Quite appropriately, he was selected by the director to create the music for this film, not just because he's Greek and Alexander is a Greek national hero, but because the style of his compositions is a perfect fit for the grand vistas (literally and figuratively) opened by the movie.
I think what Vangelis did for this movie is on par with his greatest past accomplishments. The music blends into the images and the plot - it's a music about high ideals, great accomplishments and about broad changes of destiny at a planetary scale.

Awesome movie. Perhaps not the favourite in a cost-driven, show-me-the-profits world that lives only for the flesh and aknowledges no ideal that disturbs its lukewarm muddy ecosystem. After all, Alexander changed and reshaped everything and everybody he touched. And change is not too good for the shallow marshlands. "Spongebob", though, is.

Memorable quotes:
"Conquer your fear, and I promise you'll conquer death."
"A king isn't born, Alexander. He's made."
"In the end, all that matters is what you've done."