ALEXANDER (2004)

Oliver Stone has made some stunning film and many of those turned out to be controversial films but Alexander was probably his most ambitious and yet one of his most panned films. It was a film that was panned by viewers and critics alike and the kind of ripping that Colin Farrell received was probably equaled only by George Clooney for his nipple protruding Batman turn in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. But I, for some reason kept going back to Alexander again and again. I wasn’t fully convinced that this was as big a douche as the rest of the world wanted me to believe. I didn’t love it in the first view but I found it entertaining enough to merit a few more views. That was however the theatrical cut that came out in 2004 that I watched. Almost 13 years later, I now own a collector’s edition ultimate cut of the film which approaches the story in a very different manner and is an extensively laid out film. This cut made me love this film all over again.

The film chronicles the journey of a young Alexander, who wants to be his father’s son but is reminded again and again by his mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) that he is not born of Philip but of Zeus. Philip (Val Kilmer) the arrogant and savage king, who was a great leader, nevertheless, was never a great father. But his eccentricities and his wife’s indifference towards him only made the matter worse for a young Alexander. He gets the crown at an early age when his father is murdered and soon comes up against Darius; the man he believes facilitated the murder of his father. The film progresses from here on as we see Alexander’s march from Babylon to the mountains of Hindukush to his final foray into India where he is seriously wounded and forced to turn back home.

Alexander is a mammoth undertaking. To make a film about a man as gigantic in persona as Alexander and someone who has had a life as huge and expansive as him is not a meager task. The biggest advantage for me in watching this film came from the fact that I knew as little about Alexander as the school textbooks taught me. I was oblivious to many of the flaws that experts pointed out in the screenplay. I always viewed this film as a fictional tale and not one that needed a documentary type realistic treatment. Hence the biggest complaint of historic inaccuracy was nonexistent for me.

Alexander is an enormously mounted film. There are two battle sequences, one of which happens at the heart of the Persian Empire in Gaugamela and the other in the dense forests of India. If you ask me, this film deserves a view for these two action sequences alone leaving everything aside. The sequences are shot with such authority and choreographed with such finesse that you cannot help but fall in love with them. Unlike many recent films, the battle sequences of Alexander are colorful and soaked in blood. The first battle is historically correct too as they don’t even miss showing the pellters and the manner in which the Greeks repelled chariots of the Persians.

You must be confused at my newly found knowledge of historical authenticity when I, just a couple of lines ago, admitted that I hadn’t a clue about it. Well these battles were discussed in a discovery channel program which I happened to watch and remember even till date. The sequences were etched in my memory and Stone brought them back to life one more time in this film. I have seen these sequences being replicated in numerous period epics but none of them have come close to what Stone achieves here. The battle sequence in India reminded me of the battle sequence of Stone’s gruesome film on the Vietnam War, Platoon. There were also a few cues taken from gladiator but they were nominal. Taking a drastic departure from the sequences of desert and rugged terrains, this sequence unfolds in lush green and thick under growth. The usage of elephants and the contrast of colors coupled with the action choreography elevates this sequence a notch above the first even though its shorter.

The film’s story is long and it involves a lot many characters and sub plots. Stone, in trying to give importance to each and every character, may have treaded a bit too far but for me that was never a problem. Even the problematic or uncomfortable homosexual love affair between Alexander and Hephaistion was done subtly enough to not turn cringe worthy. The track involving Alexander and his father Philip felt the most personal. This track should have been given a bit more importance. The subplot involving Alexander and his mother is also important to the story but is somewhat melodramatic. It helps us to understand certain things that Alexander does and why he does them.

Coming to the performances, Collin Farrell as Alexander worked for me. I don’t care what the world has to say but his act grasped my attention. He also did a hell of a job toggling between his younger and older self. His ferocious will to fight and win in every situation is wonderfully documented by the expressions that he brings to the table. The man also brings a childlike innocence to many sequences which helps create a nice arc for his acting range. He is apt for the role. Val Kilmer takes the cake as Philip. He may have a small role but in every scene that he shares screen with any other character, he takes away the limelight. Angelina Jolie huffs and puffs but she gets repetitive after a while. Rosario Dawson has nothing to do except look distraught and Jared Leto always plays second fiddle to Farrell.

The film boasts of a magical background score and lyrical costume and set design. Watching this film in high definition on my Samsung full HD TV, the visuals really leaped out of the screen. The vivid colors, the outstanding design and the minute attention to details only made the experience that much more endearing. Having said all that, the biggest question of them all was weather this was a perfect film or not? The answer to that question is a simple no. Offcourse not! The film has its share of flaws and shortfalls but the film definitely gives you what it promised to give you in the first place. It’s a sweeping epic with grandeur and action which was unequaled in the days when it came out.

It has interesting characters, simmering drama and mind boggling action. It may not be historical correct but I am not complaining about it as I took it for a fiction and fiction it is in every sense of the term. Before you all are up in unison against my views please ask yourself, what you were expecting going into this film. May be it was your confused expectations and not so much the film that played the spoilt sport for you. For all the rest, watch this film if you haven’t already and try to watch the ultimate cut which I believe would be much more rewarding.

Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

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