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Not that Great Afterall

Epics are in. The works of Homer and J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakepeare have been mined. Musicals have been whipped into celluloid extravaganzas. Even the Bible has been exploited. The annals of history are now being combed through for figures worthy of biopics. Who better of inspiring a grand production other than military leader Alexander the Great?

At the time of his death at the ripe old age of 32 (323 B.C.), the Macedonian King had ruled land stretching all the way from the Mediterranean through Persia and Central Asia into India -- a staggering average of two million square miles. Director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July) attempts to uncover the man behind the myth in a whopping two hour and forty-five minute film which ultimately does little in helping you understand either Alexander's motives or his character, or even making you care to.

Alexander is portrayed by Colin Farrell, who for some reason here discards his Irish brogue for an American accent, with intensity. However, all the smoldering looks in the world can't save this movie from its fate. Narrated by an old comrade, Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), his tale begins with his mother (whose doesn't?) Olympias (Angelina Jolie), a rumored witch with the gift of clairvoyance and a penchant for snakes, who raises Alexander as her 'avenger' against her abusive husband King Philip (Val Kilmer in an outstanding role).

Olympias is a control freak with paranoid delusions and the weirder she gets, at least according to the way it is indicated in this movie, the further Alexander travels to get away from her. Apparently he can't get far enough and even as his travels lead him to the jungles of India, her shadow follows. He seeks solace in the arms of his best friend, lover and right hand man Hephaistion (Jared Leto), Roxane (Rosario Dawson), the feisty daughter of a tribal chief (whose wedding night makes for one of the weirdest love scenes of all time) and bloody battles.

The movie charts his dysfunctional childhood and then his eight-year trek in pursuit of conquering all the lands in his way until he reached the water and made his way back to Macedonia. His loyal army (so loyal perhaps because they were all sleeping with one another) composed of nubile, statuesque warriors, follows him until his death, or theirs. Stone offers various explanations for Alexander's rise (he was sired by Zeus himself, he was blessed by the Gods, his mother was a sorceress, political wrangling) and subsequent fall (pride, the death of the love of his life, poison, treason) but none of them really stick.

The battle scenes -- they are really only two here-- are exhausting, but capture your attention. Furthermore, the actors' accents were all gratingly off. This is supposed to be a big budget picture, you would think that they would have had instructors they could have hired to teach the actors how to do a decent Macedonian accent. However, there are two great scenes that make the movie. The greatest is when King Philip is assassinated and Alexander is promptly pronounced 'King', unfolded with great restraint and dramatic splendor, and the other comes when Alexander faces a roaring elephant in a heated battle in India.

Alexander's portrayal of male homosexuality is the best thing this movie does; the love between Alexander and Hephaistion as both friends and lovers is illustrated with great depth of feeling. It might just be the grandest male relationship brought to the screen. When Leto and Farrell look at one another -- a mixture between a lovelorn high school pair and an aging married duo long familiar with one another -- you truly sense the intimacy of their relationship.

This aspect aside, Alexander still isn't very good. In the end, you walk away feeling like you just had a three-hour lecture but came away with nothing.

Stars: 2 out of 5