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20 March, 2005

Review: Alexander (2004)

As I said, I saw this film at the cinema last night.  Though this review is probably influenced by the poor circumstances of its showing, I do think my inability to suspend disbelief and be drawn into the narrative was primarily a fault of the film itself.

In summary, I didn't rate the film at all, and rather regretted giving it three hours of my life.

Firstly, its coverage of significant events was less than cursory. For example, there was a jump from Alexander attaining adulthood straight to the climactic battle for Persia some years later, his army having already conquered the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Later parts of the campaign were similarly glossed-over. There was negligible sense of events unfolding, or of any human elements; the audience were just told, bluntly, by a voiceover.

Conversely, certain individual episodes were given far too much screen time, which isn't the same thing as their having been explored too deeply – that's the last thing I'd claim about this superficial treatment of the story. No doubt his actions in the battle of Gaugamela, risking comrades in pursuit of his personal obsessions, conveyed important information about Alexander as a man, general and king, but the interminable battle was a very inefficient way to do so. I didn't time it, obviously, but I suspect this one battle accounted for twenty minutes – a ninth of the entire film – and it felt like no more than a gratuitous action sequence.

You'll notice that I said 'conveyed important information' in the foregoing paragraph, not 'conveyed important facts'. Like 'JFK', a blatent fantasy presented as truth, 'Alexander' was directed by Oliver Stone, and similarly demonstrates a limited respect for historical facts. I don't have a problem with fiction involving genuine people and events, so long as it's clear that that's what it is, but I prefer dramatic yet accurate reconstructions of established facts. Fiction masquerading as fact merely invites contempt.
Much has been made of the fact that Stone took inspiration from a biography by Prof. Robin Lane Fox, who actually appears, uncredited, in the film, but being able to name-check an Oxford historian doesn't mean Stone necessarily listened to him, nor that the screenplay stuck to the verified research.

Angelina Jolie's distinctly Slavic accent was a strange element. Some have mocked her failed Greek accent, but personally I don't think think she was trying for Greek – her character wasn't Greek, and Macedonia neighbours overtly Slavic nations. My criticism isn't of the accuracy of her accent, but the fact that she was the only actor to affect one relevant to the region. The concept of Macedonian characters using Irish accents to distinguish them from Greeks using English accents is a good one (that's the rationalisation, anyway; I suspect a truer reason is that it accommodates Colin Farrell's natural accent), but either all actors should have attempted Macedonian or Greek accents, or none of the actors should have attempted region-specific accents – including Jolie. The way it was used, her accent was merely excessively-crude emphasis that her character was a foreigner.
In fact, though her role probably wasn't immensely challenging, I think Jolie's performance was amongst the better ones in the film. Unfortunately, Farrell was somewhat erratic as Alexander, which was something of a problem in a film focusing on him.

Not recommended!

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