November 30, 2004

Oliver Stone Ruins Biopic in Hail of Clich

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Why is it that great individuals, whose legendary achievements compose our modern mythology, are smeared by terrible films? Muhammad Ali, JFK, Jesus Christ, Achilles and the Incredible Hulk — and now the latest titan to die a flaming death on screen: Alexander the Great.

Easily the most fantastic self-destruction I have witnessed in years, Alexander is sordid evidence of what happens when Hollywood producers, burnt-out directors and unenthused stars stand in a circle jerk, urinating on and setting fire to $150 million. If the dead can still see what happens with the living, then the real Alexander isn’t just rolling in his grave, he’s clawing his decayed eyes out.

Perhaps Alexander started with good intentions. It had all the makings of an intellectual epic, an exercise in depth psychology on one of the greatest conquerors, military strategists and humanists in all of history. But something went horribly wrong. My guess is that it started by choosing the only man with an ego bigger than Alexander’s for director: Oliver Stone. One would think that Alexander’s life would be a veritable diamond mine for filmmaking. A Macedonian king who conquered most of the known earth, was believed to be a homosexual and thought to be a god by the Egyptians would provide any number of avenues to approach his life. But Stone somehow underplays and bungles all of them. Told through the posthumous narration of Alexander’s close friend Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), Alexander ends up playing like a Time-Life production of Alexander the Great’s greatest hits. The film jumps in episodic bursts through dumbed down events in Alexander’s (Collin Farrell) life, beginning with his childhood under the cruelty of his father King Philip (Val Kilmer) and the insanity of his mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie), his strange marriage to Roxane (Rosario Dawson) and ending with his tragically premature death at age 35. The film moves at an agonizingly viscous pace, but without telling us anything. If it weren’t for the voiceover of Ptolemy, most of the details of Alexander’s life would be lost. Throughout, Stone subjects us to Angelina Jolie’s embarrassing accent, some of the worst CGI battle sequences to date and swaths of inane, clich