Purveyor of American dreams, Oliver Stone turns to the ancient world to examine the life of a different kind of president. Staring out from her husband’s palace, the snake-charming Olympias (Angelina Jolie consulting the Transylvanian Oracle of Bette Davis) ponders her son’s future: “Who is Alexander?” It’s a question Stone attempts to answer over the course of the postmodern-lite Alexander‘s three hours, an epic stretch of unbridled conjecture by turns frustratingly banal and giddily over-the-top. Narrated by an elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins)—who suggests Alexander the Great’s failures were often greater than other men’s successes—this half-cocked, passionately chaotic creation is ostensibly about the titular Macedonian king but doubles as an allegory for both George W. Bush’s political career and Stone’s own struggle with history.
Fueled by his sparring mother and father’s rants about the gods (some legends suggest that Olympias believed Zeus was her son’s real father), Alexander (Colin Farrell) is a born-again leader whose jingoistic crusade to conquer the pre-Christian world becomes a form of divine wish fulfillment. Not surprisingly, Alexander‘s greatest moments are fanatically fantastical: the Gaugamela battle sequence that pits Alexander’s army against a camera-posing Persian army and supervised from the heavens by a CGI eagle; the “money shot” between an elephant and Alexander’s faithful steed, which seemingly opens a big and bloody hole into an alternate, acid-stoked universe; and the amusing eagle-has-landed sequence that tells Olympias that her son is no more.
Stone’s films all envision nationalist nightmares and Alexander is no exception. Its best sequences, few and far between, evoke the spiritual unrest of The Doors and the brilliant Natural Born Killers, two films about people struggling to negotiate their relationship with their adoring public and define, rewrite, and transcend their place in time. Like Mickey and Mallory and Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrrison, Farrell’s would-be Oedipus is a drama queen but doesn’t exactly bring to mind a man who conquered 90% of the known world by the age of 25. In short, Stone fails to truly illuminate the “great” in Alexander the Great and the collision of mythos and politics in the ancient world. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the ham-fisted Alexander can’t be enjoyed as My Big Gay Greek Epic.
Some historical records tell us that Alexander’s relationship to lifelong friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto) may have been both sexual and romantic, a notion Stone happily indulges, except Alexander‘s gay subtext is strangely pitched between I-love-you-no-matter-what and love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. In other words, it’s impossible to tell what the Greeks allowed and what Hollywood suits did. This sketchiness boggles the film and leads to all sorts of ridiculousness: frustrated glances between Hephaistion and Alexander’s bitches, but most especially Hephaistion’s hysterical death scene (even in death, the cutie—whose thighs were the only things to ever defeat Alexander—can’t compete against his lover’s soliloquies). From Jolie and her animalistic doppelganger Rosario Dawson’s diva antics to the Vangelis electronic score that suggests a portal has opened into The NeverEnding Story, Alexander gives good face but not much else.