- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

“Alexander,” Oliver Stone’s first theatrical feature since the rollicking National Football League homage of 1999, “Any Given Sunday,” also teems with diverting spectacle.

I don’t think I’d trade the football saga for the biographical epic, but it’s been almost half a century between movies about Alexander the Great, so a new edition ought to arouse curiosity.

It’s something of a letdown to discover that neither of the set-piece battle sequences mounted for “Alexander” rivals game days in “Sunday” for pictorial dynamism and rooting interest. However, considerable pomp is invested in dressing the battlefields for a bewildering rout of the Persian king Darius III at Gaugamela in 331 B.C. and then a gory collision with the war elephants of Rajah Porus in 326. The second battle seems to anticipate the counterculture, because everything goes psychedelic in the color schemes.

Mr. Stone and his co-writers devote much of the exposition to placing Alexander in a coherent historical and dramatic framework, accounting for the incentives that led to martial aspirations, empire building, ambivalence about Mum and Dad, and susceptibility to consorts of both sexes.

Anthony Hopkins is entrusted, sometimes to dithering excess, with the narrative thread while cast as an elderly commentator, the former Macedonian general Ptolemy, who abetted the far-ranging conquests of Alexander and became ruler of the Egyptian domains. He holds forth in the Alexandria library.



The younger Ptolemy, played by Robert Earley, is a conspicuous member of the inner circle in extended flashbacks that depict Alexander’s meteoric 12-year reign as a precocious warlord from Macedonia who can’t resist overreaching and envisions a vast empire. To their credit, the filmmakers appreciate just how far his travels and conquests extended.

Shortcomings abound once Colin Farrell supplants Connor Paolo, the winsome adolescent who precedes him in the role of Alexander. The adult star never gets a triumph as stirring as the teen’s taming of the black stallion Bucephelas — a reminder that Alexander was the granddaddy of horse whisperers.

Blond-tressed, gauche, hotheaded and often blubbery, Mr. Farrell cuts a consistently laughable figure. He seems to be losing composure and gravitas as his roles get bigger. In “Alexander,” he’s decisively outclassed by Val Kilmer, cast as his roughhewn father, Philip II, and by a prodigiously distracting Angelina Jolie as his snake-charming and forever-sinister mother, Olympias.

You emerge from the movie enlightened in eccentric respects. It’s humorously evident that Oliver Stone has gotten in touch with his inner Cecil B. De Mille (the bacchanals are far more entertaining than the battles) and his inner Pedro Almodovar, synonymous with the inner Hellene that blossoms in love scenes between Mr. Farrell as Alexander and Jared Leto as boon companion Hephaistion.

It’s just as obvious that we’re watching an Angelina Jolie classic. Enlarging her role gets a little tricky, as Olympias and Alexander were separated after he marched on Persia. Mr. Stone cleverly sustains her as a voracious letter writer and postpones one major episode, the murder of Philip, radically in order to showcase Olympias anew in the last hour or so.

During one fabulous sequence, “Alexander” also becomes a Rosario Dawson classic: She threatens to annihilate Mr. Farrell while playing his bride, a naked hellcat named Roxane, princess of Bactria and wedding-night menace. The hotsy-totsy stuff keeps leaving the star in a fix, struggling to assert command despite behavior patterns that might justify such sobriquets as Alexander the Crybaby or Alexander the Mama’s Boy. Domineering-mama issues cloud his poor mind to the bitter end. Don’t leave early, or you might miss the hallucination with Miss Jolie as a Medusa bogeymom, rippling in Mr. Farrell’s chalice.

Let’s not even get started on the Irish accents that run rampant in the Macedonian army. A more vigilant cinematic mythologist might have balked at Colin Farrell as the lead in a biographical epic evoking antiquity. Didn’t it occur to anyone, perhaps during rushes, that Jared Leto might be a more photogenic and reliable choice in the title role? Seeing them together time and again kind of rubs in the misconception. Mr. Leto is better-looking, possesses a more expressive voice and confronts the camera with striking blue eyes. He doesn’t steal scenes the way Angelina Jolie steals scenes, but he might provide the luxury of a heroic profile matched to a sensitive acting instrument.

Knowing that his hero would have to charge a herd of elephants, Mr. Stone may have opted for the hooligan best qualified to resemble a runaway young bull on the streets of Pamplona. Call it animal magnetism, and relish it as a hoot.

“Alexander” has its attractions and blunders, but the supreme blunder is Colin Farrell.

***

TITLE: “Alexander”

RATING: R (Occasional graphic violence, sexual candor and nudity within an ancient historical framework)

CREDITS: Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay by Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis and Mr. Stone. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Production design by Jan Roelfs. Costume design by Jenny Beavan. Historical consultant: Robin Lane Fox. Music by Vangelis

RUNNING TIME:175 minutes

WEBSITE: www.alexanderthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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