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Photograph by Jaap Buitendijk

Lawrence of Macedonia: Colin Farrell contemplates the known world he is about to conquer in 'Alexander.'

Stoned Again

In Oliver Stone's 'Alexander,' history is really just a record of people getting swords thrust in their guts

By Richard von Busack

Oliver Stone starts backward, with the death of Alexander. The conqueror's lifeless hand drops a favorite jeweled ring: Rosebud. Thence to a flash-forward, 40 years later. A droning Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) teeters around the Library of Alexandria as he tries to get a handle on this Alexander (Colin Farrell) he once knew and served so long ago. Zoom through Alexander's formative childhood. His first memory is of his one-eyed father, Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer), trying to rip a sadly too-sturdy toga off Angelina Jolie. She plays Olympia, worshipper of Bacchus and breeder of snakes. (In a ripe Balkan accent: "They are like people. You can feed them and hold them, but still, they turn on you.")

We see some wrestling coaching by Brian Blessed, who makes exhortations that can't be heard over the grievous Vangelis soundtrack. Next comes school time with Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), who explains that foreigners are evil and that sex without love is wrong. Cut to 20 years later: the eve of the battle of Gaugamella. On the other side are the Persians--kohl-rimmed eyes, sinister curled beards. The Greeks win, but there are two hours to go.

Stone handles Alexander's sexuality as well as could be expected under the circumstances, with Jared Leto as Alexander's best friend and obviously more. Jonny Lee Miller casts humid racehorse-eyed stares at his general; put a bridle in his mouth, and Miller could have played Bucephalus. Some unidentified Babylonian slave hovers around, flaring his nostrils like Rudolph Valentino. Finally, Alexander takes a bride in the far-off mountains of Bumfukistan. Rosario Dawson has the unhappy role of Roxane, whose thick caftan turns out to be more rippable than Jolie's silk toga. The movie becalms in Central Asia. Crisis, flashback and a final battle with the elephants ensue at a leisurely pace.

As Hamlet said, "Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion ... and smelt so?" Except for Jolie's snake-chewing performance, there's not a fun moment in this epic. Stone relates Alexander's progress to the bloodier Greek myths, making a mixed metaphor: he is Oedipal, but his mother is a Medea, and circumstances make Alexander a Prometheus who gets his liver eaten by the buzzards of war. Under this ruinous burden of lore, Farrell can be excused for giving such a neurotic performance. It is as if they had cast Anthony Perkins.

"The beauty of Alexander is that he won," Stone claims. No, the real beauty was the ideal of Alexander, the dream of a philosopher's brain in a soldier's body--a man of both action and intellect, epitomized in the parable of the Gordian knot. Stone portrays Alexander as a conqueror overcome by conquest, like a glutton overcome by food. He is making some agonized but impenetrable comment about the corrupted idealism of America and his own declining powers as an artist. The real Alexander is best sought elsewhere.

Alexander (R; 165 min.), directed by Oliver Stone, written by Stone, Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis, photographed by Rodrigo Prieto and starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer, plays countywide.

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From the November 24-December 1, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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