December 3, 2004
The worlds greatest warrior
would have scoffed
They call him the best warrior who ever lived. He dealt a crushing blow to the massive Persian armies after becoming king at the tender age of 20. He was a boy yearning for the approval of his stern, battle-scarred father. He was conflicted by his mother’s legacy--a brutal woman in her own right, unafraid to do anything to get herself and her son ahead.
They call him Alexander the Great. And Oliver Stone’s film based on this legend, both great and deplorable, is at megaplexes all across America. Stone’s Alexander is based on the story of this warrior who had conquered 90% of the known world by age 25. Alexander’s brief life of 32 years continues to reverberate today, almost 2,300 years after he died.
One of the major debates surrounding Alexander is his sexuality. In recent years many historians, artists and other cultural pundits have tried to reclaim Alexander’s homosexuality since it has so often in the past been ignored or denied. Stone’s film doesn’t shy away from it, but neither does it embrace it as much as it should be. This is partly because there is so much of such a large life to squeeze into a feature film.
In the press notes, Colin Farrell, who plays Alexander, notes, “Alexander was a man who would stop at absolutely nothing to achieve his dreams, which I truly believe were based on much more than greed and the desire for conquest. All his life, Alexander was looking for answers, and I also think that he was looking for love all his life. Alexander had an almost insane passion for everything he did. He could have lived a fine life in Macedonia in his palace, taxing his people and enjoying the luxury befitting a king. But there was a hole in his chest that couldn’t be filled, and his search for answers took him to the ends of the earth.”
That hole in his chest he tried to fill not only with his wars, but also with his love for his feisty wife Roxanne and his longtime companion and lover Hephaistion. Alexander also had to contend with his mother Olympias’ deep and somewhat disturbing love for him.
The cast that Stone has assembled is reputable and intense. Val Kilmer plays Philip, Alexander’s father, a man who had a contentious relationship with his son. Anthony Hopkins plays Ptolemy with a dignity and grace expected of the actor by now and Christopher Plummer as Aristotle is equally dignified and compelling.
Rosario Dawson as Roxane is beautiful and brawny in this intense role. But it is Angelina Jolie as the Machiavellian Olympias who is the female star of the show. Jolie is not only one of the most beautiful actresses working today, but she is also one of the best. She has returned to her Oscar caliber greatness of her roles in Gia and Girl Interrupted.
Farrell as Alexander is brave and compelling in his portrayal of so mythical a character. Farrell is an amazing actor who is getting better with each role.
Here he is moving as a man struggling to accept his destiny and dying so young, leaving questions unanswered as to what might have been had he lived longer.
Jared Leto as Hephaistion is truly gorgeous to look at and he lends his able acting chops to a small role in a compelling way. Leto and Farrell have great chemistry on screen and it would have been nice had Stone been able to push it even further.
Leto and Farrell have made no bones about that they would have done whatever was necessary to portray the love affair and sex between these two intense lovers. It is nice to see younger actors, unlike those of only a few years ago, who would have balked at playing gay, even in the shoes of someone as large as Alexander.
Stone (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers, Nixon and JFK), nominated for 11 Academy Awards as a screenwriter, director and producer, made his first mark with a writing Oscar for Midnight Express, an early gay cult classic. He returns to epic filmmaking here in a big way. Stone has been obsessed with Alexander from an early age and here that comes to fruition.
Stone has also made Alexander as a historical film, but with messages for our war-ravaged times today. The quest for empire at all costs can be a dangerous thirst, an unquenchable greed. This is certainly a cautionary tale for those today who seek empire in the mold of the neo-conservatives. And yet, Alexander’s heroism, his visionary status, is something that today’s leaders can only dream of approximating.
Most of all, Alexander proved that military might and homosexuality were not mutually exclusive of each other. And he would have scoffed at the hypocrisy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” No one dares ask Alexander and yet he didn’t hesitate to tell it all, to do it all.