Oliver Stone’s Alexander is a Confused Mess

If you’ve been reading my articles for a bit you know that I can be a bit brutal in speaking my truths. However, when it comes to Oliver Stone’s film Alexander, this review is brutal even for me. Alexander is one of the worst and most disheartening films I’ve ever seen. And, unlike some bad movies, Stone’s depiction of the life of Alexander the Great didn’t even managed to be a fun ride.

In any normal film circumstance, a brief summarization of the life of Alexander the Great would suffice to give you the gist of the film’s plot. However, as Oliver Stone’s Alexander has no clearly constructed plot arc, any significant discussion of the life of Alexander the Great is somewhat besides the point or scope of this film review.

Oliver Stone’s film attempts to address Alexander the Great’s conquests, personal relationships and family history, and fails at all three.

Oliver Stone’s retelling of Alexander the Great’s military conquests is muddled. We are never given a sense as to Alexander’s motivation, nor a clear explanation of the progress of Alexander’s empire. We get no hint at matters of Alexander the Great’s character and skill as supported by the historical record – the intellect, strategy and military genius are never discussed, and the battle scenes are so poorly written that one of them needs subtitles just for the audience to follow it – this is not a testament to the complexity of Alexander the Great’s military techniques (which largely relied on simple but clever strategy) , but to bad scripting and structure from Oliver Stone.

On the subject of Alexander the Great’s personal life, Oliver Stone takes great pains to be comfortable and forthcoming about Alexander’s bisexuality (an idea nearly conclusively supported by the historical record but that has been extrapolated upon rather wildly in a range of fiction about Alexander the Great), and yet manages to address the subject constantly while being clearly not only uncomfortable with it but unable to find a way to link it to the larger arc of Alexander’s story (which considering that his best friend and military companion Hephaestion was also his lover isn’t actually hard to do) in any meaningful way.

This is distracting, offensive and really dishonorable. In Alexander’s relations with women what Oliver Stone gives is equally shallow and uncomfortable, just now with nudity and hissing! I wish I were joking. In the realm of the interpersonal, none of the characters behave in any way that I find remotely plausible.

On the subject of Alexander the Great’s family, we are graced with awful performances from Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie, both using ridiculous and inappropriate accents. At times Olympias is written as if she’s wandered into yet another remake of Manchurian Candidate, and there’s not even anything that interesting to say about Kilmer’s drunken Philip, who is, apparently, interesting in faking an Irish accent at all times.

Never once does Oliver Stone’s film give us a sense of what made Alexander a leader of men or made him beloved of individuals and history. We are not even given ample insight into the reasons Alexander was loathed (and he was this as well, although modern audiences tend to forget as much). And while we get fear and doubt and humanity in this portrayal of Alexander the Great; we get nothing to counter it. Colin Farrell merely looks stunned and miserable throughout the entire film and he was either woefully misdirected or not given any direction at all.

Other elements of Oliver Stone’s film are equally bad, with the best performances being merely adequate and in minor roles.

Alexander’s score is bombastic, distracting and provides no place for emotion to build. We’re always at a climax and we don’t care.

From a design standpoint Oliver Stone’s film is mediocre at best. The sets are fine, but feel like sets, and the costumes and weaponry are mostly historically accurate but never presented in a way that’s interesting.

And while this seems like a strange thing to comment on in any film, I must note that the hair design in Oliver Stone’s Alexander would have been bad enough to ruin the film had it any redeeming features first place. Even Alexander‘s opening titles sequence is ugly, nonsensical and practically offensive to anyone who believes that a film has to be about giving the audience something.

Ultimately, Oliver Stone’s Alexander is a self-indulgent, arrogant, paranoid and miserable piece of trash that is regrettably career-endingly bad. I’ve never before had the experience of a film making me well-up with tears because it was such a betrayal of its art form, subject and audience. While the recently released director’s cut does make the film’s structure more coherent at least in its objectives if not actual successes, mostly this cut just makes what the audience has to endure from Oliver Stone on the subject of Alexander the Great even more interminable.

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