Oliver Stone has always been a director just on the verge of camp. Not camp in the way that Warhol or John Waters are camp, but in a more pretentious manner - like his films are so visually and technically perfect, it doesn't really matter about integrity or truth or a sense of kinship with his audience. Stone is an audacious uber-director full of grandiose ideas and a hyper-sensitive intellectuality, yet Stone is also a director who has yet to create a truly great film. Stone's earlier films (Platoon, Salvador, Wall Street, Talk Radio) were showy promises of an as-yet-unseen greatness - a greatness that he came close to in his best - but also most pretentious to date - work, JFK. And even though his more recent work continues his penchent for serious subject matter, films such as Natural Born Killers and Any Given Sunday, though both extremely entertaining in their own individual ways, dangle precariously close to that proverbial edge of reason and taste. As I stated earlier, Stone has yet to create a truly great film, but to clarify my statement, Stone has yet to create a bad film either - and his latest epic years-in-the-making death-defying opus, Alexander does not change that status quo one tiny bit. But it does edge him that much closer to the greatly absurd - and I mean that in the most complimentary way one can mean such a thing.
Visually stunning, yet systematically unengaging enough to not be considered a great feat - or even a good feat, at least not without some firmly held reservations. Most critics have panned Alexander for not being the grand epic that Stone promised to everyone - an early Christmas present that is non-returnable. What most critics have missed though, is the pure unadulterated guilty-pleasured enjoyment in watching this camp-filled homo-erotic pageant of frilled warriors prancing about like the fourth century bc drama queens they are. If you don't attempt to take this film seriously at all, there is some great joy to be found in its three hour long queerness. Playing like Queer Eye for the Greek Guy, something that Stone has taken much undeserved harrassment for, Alexander rides along with the breakneck speed of an antelope - albeit a rather frantic, possibly meth-riddled antelope. Alexander's meandering breakneck pace (not many directors can accomplish that duel feat!) doesn't do much for the average movie-goer, but watching these warriors elite metomorphosize into some sort of Ancient Greek version of a Bon Jovi cover band - complete with garishly blonde wigs - is still a treat dammit!!
Not much in the way of story, most of the young King's triumphs are only spoken of by a bewildered looking Ptolemy, played with equal bewilderment by Sir Anthony Hopkins, and we are left with mostly back-court bickering and longing glances from boy toy Jared Leto, looking less like a warrior and more like an androgynous Persian prostitute, lounging about beneath the long lost Hanging Gardens of Babylon - garbed in silk robes and more eyeliner than Alice Cooper wears. Alexander like most of Stone's films, is a visual masterpiece that only slightly resembles a great film. Only one scene - the ten minute red-hazed elephant battle sequence - is worth noting as genuinely great. But the film, though not great, is still a great experience to behold.
As for the acting - Colin Farrell, a much more talented actor than usually given credit for being is a kick and a half as Alexander the Great (though his Irish brogue falling in and out of time during the movie does distract at times) and Val Kilmer, as Alexander's brutish father, Philip of Macedon, is a one-note one-eyed drunken scream. It is Angelina Jolie as Alexander's Mother that steals the show from everyone. Part gypsy queen, part snake-charmer, part erotically charged vixen, full of wild energy and the mysterious motherly pangs of Jocosta, Jolie goes so far over the top that she may no longer exist, but it is such a delicious over-the-topness, you can't help but love it - if you are willing to let yourself go and remember that Oliver Stone should be seen as a great painter, with great artistic flair and a great eye toward colour and stroke, but who just happens to have no sense of great depth to his works of art.
Far from a great film and not going near far enough in its rendition of an openly bisexual society (even if those damned red-staters say otherwise), and probably on its way to a critical Elysian Fields, Alexander (the not-so great, but the greatly enjoyable) is still pure camp joy as well as an embarrassingly fun ride to take. I suppose when all is said and done, flaws and all, Alexander ain't half bad. [07/25/04]