Bursting with over-sized ambition, ferocious amounts of energy, and fever-pitch emotion that’s never afraid to go over the top, Oliver Stone’s gargantuan period epic Alexander is one of the best modern evocations of ancient history that’s ever been crafted, and easily the most underrated film of Stone’s legendary career. I’ll never understand the unnecessary hate that was piled upon this remarkable achievement upon first release; I think it’s because Stone dared to challenge familiar genre ingredients that people were hesitant to the film’s many strengths, from the non-linear narrative to the positively overwhelming battle sequences that put every other depiction of cinematic “Sword and Sandal” combat to shame. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the “war-elephant” fight in the jungle, to say nothing of the massive Battle of Gaugamela set-piece, is the single greatest battle scene of its type ever captured on film – relentless, beyond bloody, and truly terrifying — it’s positively hellish to observe, with Stone totally flipping out, even going so far as to show what would happen if an elephant stepped on your face. Rodrigo Prieto’s muscular, hugely expansive, and utterly breathtaking widescreen cinematography is always a sensuous treat, the fired-up screenplay is filled with boisterous speechifying and juicy political intrigue, the immense and soaring musical score by Vangelis reaches for the stars, and the performances range from small to large from a ridiculously stacked cast.
Colin Farrell gave it everything and more and left nothing to spare in a performance that clearly grabbed him from the inside; just look at his eyes in some of the scenes in this film and tell me he’s not insanely aligned with his character. And then you have Angelina Jolie at the absolute pinnacle of her silver-screen hotness – a true serpent/vixen of a role for the ultimate cinematic cobra. Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Val Kilmer and a plethora of “faces” all robustly spiced up the ensemble, while the extravagant and eye-filling production design by Jan Roelfs contributed to the verisimilitude of the entire film. Yes, it’s campy in spots, but likely intentionally so, as the various subtexts and themes are explored in an upfront fashion. But for the most part, this is a deadly serious tapestry of people, places, events, and moments, all patched together in that fabulously unhinged Stone fashion, where the storytelling and filmmaking demonstrates a live-wire spark. The dense script was highly interested in the various characters and their unique motivations, and there’s a sense of gusto to just about every facet of this film that never ceases to impress. This is bravura filmmaking, made by a master director who clearly possessed a true passion for the material, which makes the entire production feel all the more compelling. I saw this film twice theatrically, I own every permutation of the picture that’s been released on DVD/Blu-ray thus far, and I feel that Stone’s recent and most definitive cut is the absolute best that’s been offered. This is a project that Stone seemingly cannot let go of, a film that has driven one of our most challenging and distinctive filmmakers potentially insane.