reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, December 20, 2004


Despite their historical pretences, Oliver Stone movies usually end up being about Oliver Stone, which isn't always a bad thing, because the three-time Oscar winner is a genuinely intriguing figure. It takes a special kind of man to make himself the most widely hated writer-director in American movie history.

Yet, for one shining decade, from "Salvador" and "Platoon" in 1986 through "Nixon" in 1995, he was as brilliant a writer-director as we've seen lately. Stone's paranoid self-pity afforded him refreshing empathy for Richard Nixon, and the filmmaker's vision of himself as a great man beset by great temptations paid dividends in Gordon "Greed is good" Gekko, the wonderfully evil alter ego he created for Michael Douglas in "Wall Street."

Sadly, Stone wasted the brief apogee of his powers on the loathsome "Natural Born Killers" and the dazzling yet preposterous "JFK."

Ironically, conspiracy theories were quite respectable up until "JFK" permanently tarnished them, because -- while Lee Harvey Oswald almost certainly ended up as the lone gunman -- in Oswald's quest to be part of a conspiracy, he had forged suspicious contacts with all the usual suspects.

For ideological reasons, Stone wanted to present Col. Fletcher Prouty's claim that the entire military-industrial complex had plotted JFK's assassination en masse, but for human interest purposes, he needed to dramatize New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison's lonely struggle to pin the rap on some French Quarter homosexuals. So, Stone ended up with a plot where the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon pool their monstrous resources and ruthless expertise to hire a few flaming gay boys to carry out the actual mission.

Stone has always wanted to film the life story of a fellow he can truly relate to: Alexander the Great. The success of 2000's "Gladiator" finally made financing possible, but Stone then had to rush to head off the Alexander projects of Martin Scorsese, Mel Gibson, and Baz Luhrmann.

Disappointingly, Stone's "Alexander" ends up both half-baked and over-ripe. Without Stone's usual cinematographer or editors, "Alexander" doesn't quite work visually. A budget north of $150 million means there's plenty to look at, but the camera angles and editing rhythms are off-kilter.

Stone's script, while more historically reliable than you'd expect, has structural problems. Many picturesque incidents, such as Alexander cutting the Gordian knot, are missing, but the rest drags, padded with redundant dialog.

As Alexander, the 28-year-old Irish actor Colin Farrell ("Phone Booth") lacks leadership charisma, but he's better than Scorsese's and Luhrmann's choice, Leonardo DiCaprio, would have been. And Russell Crowe is too old and brutish to portray the beautiful boy-king who died at 32. Such a unique figure is simply difficult to cast.

Damagingly, Stone has Farrell play Alexander, the supremely willful and calculating conqueror, as the pitiful victim of his snake-charming, manipulative mom Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie, borrowing her accent from Bullwinkle the Moose's enemy Natasha Fatale) and brutish, drunken dad King Philip (Val Kilmer). Stone presumably sees the dysfunctional Macedonian royal family as a precursor to his own parents' tumultuous marriage, with poor little Alexander symbolizing poor little Oliver.

Confusing Alexander with Oedipus, Stone casts Rosario Dawson as Alexander's Afghan wife Roxanne because she looks so much like Jolie. Stone implies that Alexander's bisexuality was caused by his mom's incestuous seductiveness, but his behavior was hardly unusual in an ancient aristocrat.

Today, the same advanced thinkers who normally tell us that everything is the result of social conditioning, also claim that homosexual orientation is always innate. Christians and Jews often disagree, because in their institutional memories of the classical era, homosexuality was widely indulged in by the strong at the expense of the weak, as in Alexander's relationship with his eunuch slave Bagoas. Even at its least exploitative, as in Alexander's romantic friendship with his boyhood companion Hephaistion, ancient homosexuality only flourished when females were sequestered or despised. The triumph of Jerusalem's heterosexuality over Athen's bisexuality came in part through the improved status of women under Christianity, which made companionate marriage the ideal.

Although Alexander invaded some of the same lands as George W. Bush, Stone keeps his political sermonizing muted. If anything, Stone seems to endorse imperialism, even though it ends the bluff egalitarianism of the Macedonian troops, because, by mixing the races, it erodes nationalism, which Stone hates.

Yet, for all of "Alexander's" weaknesses, the enormous interest inherent in the material was enough to keep my attention through 173 minutes.

Rated R for violence and some sexuality/nudity.


Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.

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