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Culture Reviews
Alexander / By O. Stone /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
They just don’t make historical epics like they used to. And in saying this, I don’t even mean the old classics such as “Ben-Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia”, but with more fairly recent efforts, such as “Braveheart” and “Gladiator”. After seeing such disasters like “Troy” and now the freshly-unpacked “Alexander”, you wonder where exactly Hollywood has lost its way, particularly in this single genre of film that it has always excelled in.

Just as in many other historical epics, “Alexander” follows the life and times of a legendary figure of the past, namely Alexander the Great. A crib note for the historically challenged: this certain Alexander (Colin Farrell) was the figure responsible for the massive reach of the Greek Empire in the 3rd Century BC, who at his demise at 32 years of age was able to unite disparate lands from Europe to Africa to Asia all under one ruler.

So as one can probably imagine, the movie traces much of Alexander’s life from boyhood to end, in blurry Hollywoodized history. There is mention of his insatiable thirst for battle, his questionable sexual preferences, his identity crisis as a Macedonian, and the complex relationship he shares with each of his parents. The movie attempts to take all of these into consideration into the shaping of his life and legend. The story is presented in narration-dramatization fashion, with the ruler-historian Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) dictating Alexander’s story to his scribes.

The result: one bloody and boring mess of a movie.

Even Sir Anthony couldn’t save this effort, as he was fed line after line after line of yawn-inducing narration. In fact, even in the dramatic scenes felt like it was just each A-list actor delivering his/her own monologue. I suppose in days of old, people would not have conversations, but just regale one another with long-winded and overblown tirades. If I am allowed to make only one highlight performance, it would be Val Kilmer’s playing Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedon. Despite my opinion that there isn’t one single character that a viewer would find likeable, there is a certain depth and complexity in Kilmer’s performance that elicits curiosity and pathos.

On the other hand, Farrell is a poor choice for such a grand figure as Alexander. He seemed to feel out of place in every scene, despite the heroic efforts of his makeup artists. Angelina Jolie was also equally ineffective as Alexander’s mother, whose supposedly-Greek (yet Russian-sounding) accent in the Classical Age also proved too much for me to handle. If I make mention of all the lines of dialogue and scenes (including the controversial bisexual ones) that could have been sacrificed, director Oliver Stone could have come up with a movie about an hour long – not quite up to ‘epic’ proportions.

Apart from the superfluous scenes, Stone tries to trick us with more trappings that come with an epic, and he succeeds only halfway. There are the grand and sweeping camera shots, the exaggerated and bombastic soundtrack, and many scenes of A-list actors shouting at one another. Those were the failed attempts. Stone however tries to make up for this using skillful CGI work. The ancient city of Babylon was a true sight to behold, complete with its Hanging Gardens and Tower of Babel. In addition, the battle scenes were effectively bloody and brutal, and it was a true challenge not to cringe. (In particular, if you have to watch this movie, there was one beautifully shot showdown scene with Alexander on his horse charging against an elephant.)

Ultimately, where the film suffers is from a lack of focus; an angle. By the end of the movie, I still couldn’t determine exactly what Alexander’s motivation was. In watching movies such as this, I got used to people who seemed quite ordinary, but were able to rise to the challenge of extraordinary circumstances from some sort of fire that burns within them. With “Braveheart”“Gladiator”, it was Maximus’ thirst for justice. With “Alexander”, we are treated to such a convoluted mess of cheese and garbage that we end up with a hero that we just don’t care for.

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