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Starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christopher Plummer.
Born during a bloodthirsty time, Alexander (Farrell), the son of Macedonian King Philip (Kilmer) must fight to prove himself worthy of his father's crown, particularly when there are other interlopers with their eyes on the throne. Setting out to expand his father's empire, Alexander manages to conquer most of the known world before dieing at 32.
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Stone’s much troubled biopic of Alexander the Great stars an unconvincing blonde Farrell and an equally odd but starry supporting cast in what added to the minor flourish of post-Gladiator historical action epics released during the early part of the new milennium.
Biding by the movie's own adage that “Fortune favours the bold”, Alexander conquers and amasses almost 90% of the known world as Alexander the film runs up an equally vast running time (over two and a half hours).
Farrell puts on a brave face here, but is clearly uncomfortable with either the demands of playing a Grecian hero (he retains his Irish voice) or “queering up” as history’s most famous, supposedly gay warlord and his performance veers between horrible, over-earnest pantomime and total ineptitude.
It is an unbalanced turn but one that is faithfully mimicked by his American co-stars Kilmer and Leto (as Alexander’s long-term friend and supposed lover Hephaestion) who also play their characters with Irish accents (off-screen, this was a deliberate pact by these actors to make their leading man stand out less).
Jolie turns in a bizarre but arresting and highly stylised performance as Alexander's mother, a woman neurotically obsessed with her child and who hounds him across the world. Interestingly, despite the heavy machismo implict in such films, the most diverting turns are from women: Dawson also scores highly as Alexander’s spirited wife, a woman conquered like her country but just like those lands, is just as unyielding and complicated.
Stone, a man who has made some of the most interrogative films over the past 30 years, stumbles over this vast cinematic terrain.
A film-maker who has always searched for ‘truth’ in his projects, he was perhaps cowardly for cutting the gay love scenes under duress from the Greek authorities, but he was even more of a fool for opening the film with a pointless and boring history lesson and then employing flash-backs in his narrative. This unnecessarily jars the story and results in a toothless blip in an otherwise impressive cinematic canon.
As with the recent Troy, there are echoes of Gladiator reverberating all around, but unlike Troy, which was a plastic and vain sound a like, Alexander manages to cast the faint shadow of a good film made by a thinking director.
Wittily and persuasively written (Meyers gets the best line. When talking of the red-blooded, heterosexual Kilmer’s loathing of the ancient playwright: “Your Father was no fan of Homer’s”), the action scenes are directed with blood-spurting vigour and sweep and the design of the film is also impeccable with some pleasing photography and settings (not least the technicolour Babylon).
There is the impression that a monumental film about this extraordinary man is about to burst out, but we are instead left with only a dazzling attempt.