How’s “Alexander”? Not great. Though the battles have the blood-and-sinew bravado you expect from Oliver Stone, this three-hour buttnumbathon is hamstrung by a hectoring grandiosity, not new to Stone, and a nod toward caution, which is. The crazy energy that redeems even Stone’s worst films (Natural Born Killers, U Turn) barely surfaces in this poky take on the life of the Macedonian warrior who died at thirty-two.
It’s not that Colin Farrell, blondied up and looking rock- ready to party, doesn’t turn up the heat as Alexander. But the strain of breathing life into the dead scroll of a script makes Alexander’s plan to conquer the world look easy. Here’s the thing: Farrell isn’t just playing Alexander, he’s representing Stone, who clearly sees himself in this visionary beset by conspiracies.
Even Alexander’s carnal confusion is presented warily. Stone opens the film with Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. His arm swings into frame, as the camera shows a ring drop from his hand. It’s a direct lift from Citizen Kane when Orson Welles’ dying tycoon drops a snow globe and whispers, “Rosebud.” Alexander’s Rosebud — the key to his heart — is the ring, given to him by battle comrade Hephaistion (Jared Leto), his boyhood friend and lover. The two exchange hot looks, but Stone — perhaps unwilling to kill the film’s box-office chances among homophobes — stops there.
Truth is what Alexander gets from Hephaistion, not from women. His mother, Olympias, sexily slithered by Angelina Jolie, gives her son phallic snakes to stroke and plots the murder of Alexander’s one-eyed father, Philip (a lively Val Kilmer). Mom tells son that Zeus is his real daddy; she prefers a god to the drunken goat who likes to take her by force in front of their child.
Even Freud would freak when Alexander marries the Persian princess Roxanne (Rosario Dawson) — a ringer for mom, snake bracelets and all and re-enacts his father’s rape scenario to get it up.
No wonder Alexander is eager to get on the road with the boys. It’s here in the vividly staged battle of Gaugamela and in the elephant attack in the forests of India that the film lives up to its size and lets the director color the screen blood-red and go bugfuck in those special ways that spell Stone. The film fails, crucially, in getting us inside the head of a man who models himself on myth. Stone repeatedly cuts to Anthony Hopkins as Gen. Ptolemy, who drones on about the Great One’s place in history. Hopkins’ narration, which plays like a bad DVD commentary, even tells us it’s raining when we can see the drops go plop. Shut up, already. Alexander breaks the key rule that makes movies move: Show, don’t tell.