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Alexander, 2004  

Review: written 2006

Spectacular but bloated epic

This movie may be a failure, but as one character says of Alexander - 'His failure towered over other people’s successes!' This review is of the director’s cut which is actually a little shorter than the theatrical cut, and the changes are not obvious unless you do a study of the two or someone has told you what they are - but they work. The director’s cut somehow flows better than its theatrical cousin, and does not seem quite such hard work, making it worthy of a re-appraisal.

Having said all that, it is still overripe - the last third of the movie showing the destruction of that which Alexander loved - His horse, his best friend / lover Haphaestion, his army, his health and most of all his dream of one nation - just somehow seem at odds with the rest of the movie, and make for an unsatisfying narrative arc. Of course, these are just the facts of history that Oliver Stone had to work with, but you can't help wondering if the rival Alexander project of Baz Luhrmann which was scrapped when Stone’s vision was going to reach screens first, might have been more successful - focussing as it did on just a portion of Alexander's life. Alexander had too rich a story perhaps, to fit into one movie. The rise of Alexander has more than enough for one epic, and the fall of Alexander is a story in itself - but to fit it all into one movie smacks of the kind of desire to outdo the competition that sank Cleopatra.

So what works and what doesn't. Stone is a genius film maker, and this movie is amazingly shot and has imaginative ideas throughout. Occasionally these are a little overbearing, such as the reverse colour used when Alexander is injured, but on the whole they succeed - the eagle flying from Alexander talking to his soldiers across the battlefield to the waiting Persians is wonderful (if somewhat poor cgi). The device of splicing the dual narratives of Alexander's young life with his life as the general making his conquests, is ideal - a straight chronological tale would have been just too dull - especially with the later parts in India being just so depressing. The cast is veritably star studded, in a modern way, and the supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Angelina Jolie makes a memorable, sexy but scary Olympias making her perfect casting - except for THAT accent which was a big mistake and quickly becomes tedious. In fact, what was it with accents in this movie? Farrel has an Irish accent that is impossible to hide, but does Val Kilmer have to echo it, and Jared Leto too, as if to say the ancient Greeks were actually an Irish dynasty? The other major woman in Alexander's life is also a big success, Rosario Dawson playing the exotic barbarian woman who became his wife, but she is under utilised. Opinions will vary as to how good Farrel was, but in spite of the accent, I think his was a great performance showing the intended emotion, vulnerability and indeed ego of the complicated young man.

The music by Vangelis is a masterful piece of music - buy the album by all means - I did. However, as a score to a movie, it has mixed success... sometimes it is just too distracting - in epic moments of grandeur it is magnificent - but in battle scenes just tries too hard and does not sit well. Perhaps it might have worked in someone else’s movie of Alexander, but not Stone's.

In short, this movie will frustrate you with its length, with its rushing through parts of Alexander's life, and lack of a satisfying narrative arc. But it is a movie made with great care, by some of the best in the business, and deserves re-appraisal in its director's cut form.

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