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Alexander has been left to stew in my brain ever since the credits rolled at the screening the other night and now it has come time to put it down, quite literally.

This is one of those troublesome situations that rears its ugly head every so often. A director who has a fifty-fifty track record in my book has put something down on film that not only looks and smells like it should be admired, even treasured, yet in the end the whole concoction comes up empty.

The fact that Alexander packs blanks is not really surprising. The hype machine started in early enough when both Wolfgang Peterson’s troublesome Troy and Stone’s epic were slated for production that anyone should have seen the writing on the wall. As time went by though, more and more Alexander seemed to be pegged to become an Oscar giant, but something just never seemed to add up.

After screening the film I’m convinced that this is the case. The response from the weary audience in attendance was that of fatigue. It connected with someone, because a few claps were heard, but the majority of the crowd shuffled out in a daze with an “it was okay” look about them.

Will the film kill Thanksgiving Week? Sure, why not? Stuff like this always does, but it seems doubtful that it will have legs enough to make a serious grab at becoming the stuff of legend. Let’s face it, isn’t that what we would all expect from a film focusing on someone named “Alexander the Great?”

From the beginning, it feels as though it will deliver, too, as Alexander is depicted as a child torn between his devotion to his mother, a snake wielding Olympias (Angelina Jolie), and his desire to please his father, Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer).

His ambition to please and excel is adequately displayed, and instead of skirting all references to the gods of Greek Mythology as Peterson did with Troy, Stone delves right into the thick of the mythos while surprisingly pulling off this motivation without oversaturating the film in spiritual meanderings.

The film is also not the “battle fest” many may be anticipating, and this is what I was weary of going in, just another film chock full of outrageously over the top computer generated battles. How many times can we see CG campaigns carried out in gory brutality?

Instead the film spends more time focusing on Alexander’s admiration of the gods and setting up his eventual downfall. Imagine my surprise, a film that circumvents the opportunity to relish in scene after scene of violence in favor for time spent developing character, and yet it still disappoints!

Surprisingly, it’s the battles in Alexander that provide a breath of fresh air. After growing weary of yet another digitally rendered battalion battling their foes in what resembles a video game cut scene, it’s refreshing to see that Stone has successfully crafted combat scenes that utilize digital effects, yet manage to blend so seamlessly with live footage that we are given a truly organic feel to the whole thing. Sure, the walls of Babylon border on the crisp textures found in the Star Wars prequels, but overall these effects mesh in almost perfect union.

Truth is, the hindrances come in the form of droll presentation. The film is beautifully lensed, to the credit of Rodrigo Prieto, but the balance falls short on the story side despite there being a wealth to pull from. Despite successfully addressing the usual host of problems that plague epics such as these, somewhere along the way the heart and soul get lost in the 173 minute runtime.

That’s right, seven minutes short of three full hours, and yet it feels like an eternity. Stone takes the historical angle here, and it’s not really unexpected, yet the wry tone feels a bit like a lecture at times.

So what about the dirt? You know, is the love interest between Alexander and Hephaistion (Jared Leto) developed or ignored?

It is present, although these scenes are hardly the scandal they’ve been made out to be. In fact they provide the most entertaining developments within the film. Stone does well to introduce these tidbits steadily, from implications at an early age to a complete declaration of love and the reciprocation of said feelings, but the urgency of retreat from such developments is felt in the process.

Just as things are primed to dive deeper into potential conflict, these motivations seem to be jarringly abandoned and almost completely ignored until the film’s climax. We jump back in time to witness events that had been leapfrogged in Ptolemy’s (Anthony Hopkins) early narration, seemingly to truncate events in favor of a shorter runtime.

Flashing back is what makes the tedium set in further, as not only was an end to the film in sight, but the visualizing events already explained feels redundant despite the hope for dramatic payoff. One can see why this was implemented, but it was unnecessary as the developments revealed in flashback felt implied by Olympias’ devotion to her son.

Forget the Oscar buzz that began brewing earlier this fall, because if this film manages to scrape a few nods in its favor they will likely be for performances, not for the overall film itself. Most of the appearances here are fairly strong, and both Farrell and Kilmer stand out enough to catch the eye of a few Academy members.

Aside from these two instances, the rest of the film is hardly the goliath it had been talked up to be and it is most certainly not “great,” which could tell why such declaration was omitted from the title of the film altogether.


Mario Anima

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