Alexander (15)

Written by Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis, Directed by Oliver Stone
On general release from 7th January 2005

Reviewed by Julian Bond

Well the American critics have panned it, even the Irish-Americans amongst them, who are apparently not proud that Alexander (Colin Farrell) and his Macedonian warriors speak with Irish accents. Actually, this is a nice, justified touch, delineating between ‘rough’ northerners and the more sophisticated but ’weakened by civilisation’ Athenians. Oliver Stone blames it all on a refusal to accept Alexander's 'bisexuality', apparently we Europeans will be more knowledgeable!

Unfortunately not, the film with the exception of two excellent battle scenes is dire. Which is sad, sad because apparently this Alexander is a hero of Stone's, sad too because of the historical interest in these present times of imperialism. The script is based on historical accounts of Alexander’s quest to dominate the known world through Asia Minor, the Middle East and onwards to India. Though this might be expected to add some verve to the storytelling, it remains amateurish, psychologically laughable. The dialogue is embarrassing, Greek myths are misunderstood and misused, and Alexander’s life story is reduced to American notions of the ‘hero’. What else? Melodramatic, stirring music further derail Stone's journey. Anthony Hopkins is terribly pompous as Ptolomy, one of Alexander's generals, giving us silly explanations as he looks back on Alexander's era.

Oh and the bisexuality? Who cares, but if you are going to do it, at least do it properly. We have nonsense scenes of Alexander and his male lover looking lovingly at each other and ambiguous, meekly erotic dialogue before a hug and a peck on the cheek. Cut to next scene, please.....

The battle scenes are the exception, and are wonderfully done in panoramic scale. The first displaying Alexander’s apparent tactical acumen (I've no idea on such matters!) in overcoming Darius, King of the Persian empire. The second shows the now battle-hardened, homesick and war weary Macedonian troops fighting one last battle against an Indian king and very nearly losing heart at the sight of charging elephants. This scene, perhaps not curiously (as it was actually shot in Thailand) is reminiscent of fighting scenes from Stone's Platoon.

Ideologically the film seems to be Stone's liberal sermon, a not so secret message to all those nasty American conservatives intent on pillaging the world that there is a better way: Alexander's way. Alexander, we are told, made much effort to adopt Asian culture, married his Macedonians to Persians, and apparently intended to create a mixture of East and West (though he did have an annoying habit of naming every bleeding city he conquered or created after himself!). Yes, you can bring the values of democracy and freedom from wonderful Athens to those poor Asian hordes, under the thumb of oriental despotism. Yes, those Asians (read Iraqis, Afghanis, but not Palestinians...still terrorists, not quite ready!) can learn from us, if only we are understanding of where they are at, and help them along.

So Alexander's Asian sojourn over two thousand years ago can help us create a better liberal and democratic world today, so Stone whispers. Is everybody listening intently? I can only agree with Newsnight critic Tom Paulin that Stone is hopelessly confused in his politics and totally misunderstands the nature of empire. Shame really, as he does do very nice battles!