Movie Monday: Alexander (2004)



I think there is kind of a general mistake in the types of films I’ve been watching where people think that biographies necessarily have the kind of story that makes an interesting movie. Case in point: Oliver Stone’s big, rambling what-the-hell Alexander

Now, unlike in the previous films, I don’t have the film on Youtube to link to, but never mind, eh? What you need to know about this movie is: 

  • It is one million years long (approx.)
  • Five hundred thousand of those years are Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy talking to the camera. 
  • The Macedonians have Irish accents, mostly, and the Greeks have English accents, mostly, which is actually not a bad way of quickly summarising the difference. 
  • Olympias (Angelina Jolie) has a Dracula accent to indicate that she is Illyrian. This is not a bad idea but comes out ridiculous. 
  • There are only two battles despite Alexander’s like entire life having been battles. 
  • The thing that got everybody all het up, i.e. the romance between Jared Leto and Colin Farrell, is not really all that big a deal, although it’s not glossed over. 
  • This movie can’t decide what it’s about worth a hang. 

Basically, Alexander wanted to conquer all the stuff he could because — that is a bad beginning to that sentence. Turns out that you don’t really need reasons to conquer stuff in the 4th century BC. What’s interesting about Alexander is that he was able to conquer stuff, but the film doesn’t really give you any feeling for what made him such a great leader or strategist. It has a lot of good bits in it, but it just fails to cohere somehow. There’s a void at the middle of it. I’m tempted to call that void “Colin Farrell” but honestly I think a better name for it would be “Oliver Stone.” It’s like he decided he was going to make a film that was incredibly huge and got like 99% of the way down the checklist, just omitting “make the viewer give a shit about any of the characters.”

If I had to guess, I would say that this movie is about “what is it that motivates someone to the point where they become this world-beating general and still aren’t satisfied,” but when I look at Colin Farrell groaning I just don’t care. 

Obviously, there are historical inaccuracies aplenty, but they are more the kind of garbling you get when you try to shove a long and incredibly complicated story into even a three-hour movie while still leaving time for a bunch of fight scenes. Not that I mind the fight scenes, chaotic and brown as they may be. They look cool. 

Around the time Pirates of the Caribbean (maybe the second one?) came out, Andrew Rilstone said something to the effect that there looked like there was going to be a wash of roughly-historical epics: The Last SamuraiTroyMaster and Commander. The blame for this has been variously laid on The Lord of the Rings and on Gladiator. Whichever you prefer, Ross Douthat proclaimed the genre dead around the time of Kingdom of Heaven, which he called “Boringus Maximus.” Now, Ross Douthat is a self-deluding ninny, but you have to admit he has a point about the early-2000s historical epic boom. And I kind of see what he means, too. Like Kingdom of HeavenAlexander doesn’t really make you root for anyone. Now, that’s consistent with the history — Alexander wasn’t really a nice guy, he was just an impressive one. There’s no reason to want one set of swine to be in charge over another. But in that case, maybe more impressive stuff in the film?  

I mean, say what you will about The Vikings (here is what I will say: it’s bollocks) but there’s no denying a lot of stuff happens

Douthat also thinks that modern actors just don’t look old-timey, which on the one hand, no shit, and on the other hand, Tony Curtis. 

Movie Monday: Alexander (2004)

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