directed by: Oliver Stone
starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Released in 2004.
This is my favorite movie. Oliver Stone is among my favorite directors and Colin Farrell is my favorite actor. If a convergence of Stone and Farrell weren't enough, the movie itself exactly fits the parameters for everything I want from a movie. It has an excellent cast, it knows what to do with that cast, the characters are compelling and relevant in relation to each other, and the scope of the narrative is broad and intimate at the same time.
Some of this, again, is reflected by the talent assembled. Stone made his name as a director who was interested in exploring big issues on a small (though epic) scale. Alexander is a movie about Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror who came as close to ruling the known world as anyone. He died young, his empire was broken back into the pieces he had briefly united, and in 2004 no one seemed to really like the movie Stone made about him. Tough break. But nice try!
Stone's vision is all about the motivations that inspired his famous subject, chief among them his parents. Philip was not only his immediate predecessor in the conquering game, but Alexander's father, who found it remarkably easy to both embrace and reject his son before his assassination. Olympias surely fascinated Philip at some point, but she became a liability as he continued to formulate his plans. She instead found lasting influence through her son, "my avenger," as she calls Alexander at one point. Kilmer has perhaps his last great role, almost unrecognizable behind woolly hair and a missing eye, portraying Philip, while Jolie's accent as Olympias makes a dubious impression on some but is ideal in distinguishing her unmistakable appeal. To my mind, it's a defining role for her.
Farrell is always the soulful loner caught in someone else's story. This is probably not how most historians choose to view Alexander the Great, but as Alexander the man, Farrell is once again firmly in command of the screen, forced to exert himself the more those around him doubt his methods. He's muted around Jolie, hopeful around Kilmer. As a warrior, he's every bit the match for Alexander's own inspiration, Achilles, portrayed in Troy by Brad Pitt.
Much of what anyone knows about Alexander is its depiction of homosexuality, as embodied by Farrell's interactions with Jared Leto's Hephaistion, Alexander's own Patroclus (who was Achilles' favorite). The story here is really about Alexander's reasoned passion. The less it becomes reasonable, the more he appears to spiral out of control. So of course Hephaistion dies before the end.
Alexander learns his reasoned passion from Christopher Plummer's Aristotle, the famed philosopher. It's always a good thing to have Plummer involved, and he's the rare actor who becomes more dignified with age. Anthony Hopkins is another. He narrates the film as Ptolemy, who served with Alexander and then later succeeded him as patriarch of Egypt. Some might find this aspect of the film to be pedantic, but I like perspective. Stone already provides plenty of that, but Ptolemy exists to ensure that none of it is overlooked, the broad scope, and to remind the viewer that Alexander was indeed great, even if most of what happens in the film is about what undermines his greatness.
In smaller roles are Rosario Dawson as Roxana, the "barbarian" bride Alexander takes on his travels, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Cassander, one of many military advisers who don't share Alexander's vision.
Also significantly adding to the movie is the score from Vangelis, appropriately sweeping in nature and evocative of the momentous life being examined.
There are three cuts of the film: the original theatrical cut, the director's cut, and Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, which came a few years later. Each succeeding version seeks to guide the viewer into an easier journey along Stone's central vision, adding and resequencing scenes.