| The Red Right Hand
Alright, let's just clear something up first. The time and conquests of Alexander The Great happen to be somewhat of a passion of mine. I don't want to suddenly lead you to any false conclusions that I'm some expert who will now throw in his two-pence worth and declare this production the most accurate of historical films, nor am I a complete dunce. Leaving the cinema my initial impression of Alexander was that Stone had taken a rather bold risk listening so closely to Robin Lane Fox (Historian & Author). Together they wrote up a version of Alexander's life to appease the various qualms presented by historians and enthusiasts but seemingly ignored a bulk of the audience - those who knew little-to-nothing of Alexander, except for the few things they may have remembered from their school days.
The story starts and is told from the point of view of Ptolemy - one of Alexander's generals not to mention a dear and entrusted friend. This received a lot of flak from the critics about how it was an unnecessary inclusion that could have been left out, saving the film a good half an hour. The point that didn't seem to be made clear enough was that Alexander never kept any journals, nor did he write a biography (bar one failed attempt). People were expecting a movie that followed and honed in on the key points in Alexander's life, but in all truth nobody really knows exactly what Alexander was trying to achieve: World Domination or World Unification.
Imagine sitting in the cinema, having been accosted with posters and trailers depicting this glorious epic about the life of Alexander. The first thing that comes to mind is the recently released Troy, then after more thought comes Gladiator. So before the film has begun you're expecting a mix between the two (only the good parts, naturally) containing the actors/actresses from the posters and the epic scenes in the trailers. One may say this is the hype that ruins all films but it's the way this film was marketed that ruined the initial impression. You buy your ticket, get seated and sit through a good thirty minutes of an old man talking and a young boy growing up. By the time the battle of Gaugamela ensues you're so ready for some typical cliché Hollywood action that the sight of Alexander riding around to the left (as opposed to charging head-on into the fray) after a fairly simple arousal speech, followed by plumes of dust obscuring all view of actual combat leaves the audience a little dissatisfied. I was enthralled by the whole thing, the realism of it all was simply spectacular. All the glitz-and-glam had been shunned and you could see that Stone was aiming for sheer accuracy and attempting to convey the madness of open warfare in 300BC. However the biggest problem (which repeats itself later) is that Alexander's major campaigns have been sliced up into the 'best' moments and thrown into one big battle scene.
Ms. Jolie did exceptionally well too, even if her accent was somewhat confusing and muddled in places. The idea behind it was that she was an Eastern princess (supposedly a descendant of Achilles & Zeus) who had been wed to Philip [Kilmer] through a wedding of politics and convenience. Olympias was fabled to be a woman of extreme beauty but with a sultry air about her - they couldn't have cast better than Jolie for this one, the whole element of mystical seductress simply oozes from her and she carries that well throughout the film, even when they show her watching the eagle's omen as an older woman, she retains her almost manipulative but seducing looks. Allowing Farrell to keep his Irish accent gave a nice change from the well-spoken English everyone has become accustomed to in epic classics. Giving the accent to all the inhabitants of Macedon was also a pretty interesting decision. I felt it was as natural a choice as any other accent and gave Jolie's very Eastern-sounding accent a complete sense of distance and isolation - as if she didn't belong among the Macedonians and was never really going to be accepted as one of them - which is also portrayed in the film with the chemistry between Jolie and Kilmer. Again, Kilmer was a choice that I wouldn't have thought of first but panned out rather well for both film and story.
The whole gay component of this movie cannot be avoided. It's a simple historical fact - Alexander The Great liked guys. The only difference being, in that particular era there was no distinction between Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, it was all simply elements of relationships. I recently read a review stating that it was being shown but that it wasn't needed to further the plot, that it should have simply been done away with all together. This is plain closed-minded homophobia talking. To be honest, there's more heterosexual sex than there is homosexual, certain aspects and passing peoples have implications attached to them, but nothing more. Very little is actually shown to the audience, it's merely presented for you to take in and think about. I thought the confliction between Hephaistion and Alexander - that they had to keep their feelings to themselves, that it would be improper to have such-a-close relationship between General ad Soldier - makes for excellent viewing, adding elements of a forbidden love that people like going to the cinemas to see (at least, some people do).
In closing I simply want to say that this is an astoundingly well-researched and produced film. From start to finish I was completely captivated and my niggles and gripes are more about the greeting this picture received and the critics who were too short-sighted to see what Stone had set out to achieve - which is a nice comparison with a scene from the film: Alexander stands on the edge of the Hindu Kush of India pleading with his men to press onwards. The troops throw volleys of insults and accusations, that he has lost sight of what his goal was, that he is ignoring what he's achieved so far for what could be. What they really meant was that they couldn't understand why Alexander would want to go to India when he controlled all of Persia and had more than enough Gold to fund 10 wars. Like the armies of Macedon, unable to see what Alexander was trying to achieve, so too the critics of today cannot see what Stone is trying to say in this piece. He is trying to depict the life of a great general and a very misunderstood man, who was hundreds of years ahead of his time, through the eyes of someone who didn't fully understand why Alexander made the decisions that he did.
6 January 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
The Battle of the Jhelum - this depicts Alexander's troops deep in the Indian jungles, combating the Rajah (Porus) and his elephant-driven forces. Cinematically beautiful and wonderfully done with some truly spectacular photography work after Alexander's charge on Porus. Even if the events unfold somewhat differently to how history tells us.
Aristotle [Christopher Plumber], a short part, more like a cameo from Plumber, well played never-the-less. Showing the audience a glimpse at the tutoring Alexander received at the hands of the finest men of their (and maybe all) time.
"She charges a high ransom for 9 months lodging in the womb"
In A Few Words:
Theatrical Release: 7/10
Director's Cut: 8/10