Ted Pigeon

I really can’t help but wonder why the Warner Bros. Studio executives would allow Oliver Stone to direct a film aimed at mainstream audiences. Stone is a wonderfully gifted filmmaker who is responsible for some of best films in the last 20 years (“JFK,” “Platoon”), but his style of filmmaking does not at all lend itself to an epic narrative that “Alexander” could have, and should have, been. In his three hour biopic of Alexander the Great, Stone attempts to blend his own sensibilities as a filmmaker with an old-fashioned narrative aimed at the mainstream, and the result is an odd mess of a movie that never really establishes itself and feels forced.

The film tells the story of the life of Alexander the Great (played by Colin Farrell), a man who conquered nearly the entire known world by the age of 26. Although the trailers lead us to think otherwise, the film does not focus on the battles or conquests of Alexander. Rather, it focuses on his inner struggles as a person and how troubled a man he was as a result of his childhood.

In the beginning of the film, we are shown bits and pieces of Alexander’s childhood, in particular how he attempts to make sense of the relationship between his mother and father, both of whom try to convince Alexander that the other is truly evil. It’s clear from the beginning that Stone doesn’t want to give us a superman image of Alexander; he wants to show that Alexander is a real person with real struggles. As the film progresses, it fails to develop his character beyond this picture of his childhood which it so rigorously attempts to instill, however.

Meanwhile, as Stone tries to establish these psychological aspects of this character, the narrative suffers greatly, and the film never really achieves a sense of the history involved. We are shown so little of the battles, the traveling, the conquests and the warfare. It’s all secondary in this film, which is another reason why the narrative so easily caves in on itself.

When we are shown battles, they are often sub-par, with the exception of a couple majestic moments. Since we are exposed to so few of them, we don’t have a sense of these battles. How are we supposed to understand this huge conquest and near conquering of the world if we don’t see any of it develop on screen?

Nevertheless, there are fascinating aspects of this character of whom Stone is painting us a portrait. What’s so interesting about the Alexander we see here is how he seems to genuinely care about the people he leads into battle: he personally addresses many troops before battle and seems to value the customs and traditions of the cultures he essentially conquers. One other area of the movie that Stone certainly wants to focus on but keeps a distance from is Alexander’s relationship with his best friend, Hephaestion (Jared Leto). The film very much wants to convey the homosexual aspect of their relationship, but it never feels comfortable doing so. There are many conversations between them and several looks of longing exchanged, but the film avoids anything beyond that. It’s all merely implied. And it’s clearly a side of the character that Stone wants to hone in on, but he treats it timidly and always keeps his distance at the risk of alienating his mainstream audience. Therefore, it becomes yet another underdeveloped area of the movie.

This film was a bold move by Stone; he made a three-hour movie about one of the most famous war figures in history and didn’t focus on the wars or the history, and it could have worked. There are just too many inconsistencies and flaws in all areas of the production that the film almost breaks down by its halfway point. And when you have a three-hour movie that fails to garner much interest from the beginning due to a confused story and lack of interest in character, there’s no limit as to how dragged out it can feel. Sadly, that’s precisely what happens with this film.

Despite all that’s to admire in this portrait of Alexander the Great, the film falls short in so many crucial aspects to the character and on top of that, the narrative isn’t strong enough to sustain a high level of interest over such a long period of time. Much rested on Colin Farrell’s performance, and he does the best he can with the character, but even though he is a good actor, he is not right for this kind of role. Among all the acting talent in the film, Val Kilmer is the only one who truly feels like his character. It’s too bad he’s not in the film very much.

Based on the box office numbers and audience reactions thus far, it seems that “Alexander” is bound for public rejection. And even though I haven’t had a lot of nice things to say about it, the film is not as bad as it is being made out to be; I can think of far worse films on the market right now.

If Stone had his way, the end product may have been much better. But because it is so blatantly obvious that Warner Bros. would not let him fully endeavor on something so risky, it couldn’t be the film Stone wanted it to be. What we’re left with is an awkward film that barely works on any level because it tries to function on many and is incapable of doing so.

“Alexander” misses the mark because it is an awkward molding of a product of studio executives protecting an investment and the work of a filmmaker who wanted nothing to do with that, and both sides are equally to blame.