The biggest problem that I had with Alexander, and I think it’s a common problem with biopics is that a director such as Oliver Stone sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. In fact, I think another great director, Michael Mann also suffered from the same problem when he made Ali. With Oliver Stone having such a strong take on the material, and using his personal politics to add flavor to the story, I think he ultimately created an unwieldily beast of a film that did know what it wanted to be. Having seen the movie in the theater and now again on DVD, I honestly don’t think any amount of cutting could have saved this film.
It isn’t that Alexander is horrible. It isn’t that the performances are bad. It is quite simply that at the end of the day, you really don’t get the sense that Alexander has accomplished anything great. Now don’t get me wrong, I am fan of biopics that do not hold the viewers hand. I like being thrust into a world and not knowing anything about it, suddenly having the onus on myself to piece things together. The sad thing is, Oliver Stone leaves so much of that out. I never once got the feeling that Colin Farrell was the great warrior he was supposed to be. I know that Stone has made many films, but using imagery and slow motion shots to evoke this sense (coupled with Anthony Hopkins well intentioned but jumbled narration) isn’t any way to bring this across. In a film such as this, you have to show not tell.
In a movie like JFK, when Stone sticks to the story, and uses images to piece together what might have happened, everything seems to work. We get a clearer picture of what the main character is trying to do. Even in a TV movie like The Pirates of Silicon Valley, they focused on the story of what really happened, minimizing the use of imagery and their personal take. Oliver Stone is one of America’s finest directors. He is truly someone who knows how to make powerful films. Sadly, in telling this story, I think he got lost and as a result so did the film.
Commentary by director Oliver Stone
I have heard that Stone is one of those guys that redoes his commentary tracks to make sure that his points are coming across. Truthfully, and I think Ali could have used this as well, I think Alexander would have fared better if they had released the film with this commentary track playing over the film. While still not leading us by the hand, Stone, in his intelligent way, guides us through the film, explaining things that we would seemingly know if we were as learned on the subject as he is. I found this commentary to be insightful but at the same time you wonder if the director had any type of fun working on this movie?
Alexander was released November 21, 2004.