Dir: OliverStone. UK-Fr-Neth. 2004. 165mins.

Alexander is a magnificent mess of a movie, a wildly ambitiousold-style epic filled with as many moments of greatness as creative mis-steps.The first feature film in five years from Oliver Stone, produced and financedindependently to the tune of $160m by Moritz Borman and Intermedia, Alexandercertainly won't be a unanimous critics' favourite and domestic mass audienceswill prefer the safety of National Treasure and Ocean's 12 whenit opens in the US on Nov 24.

But, like Troy thissummer, international audiences represent the chief hope of recoupment, asbefits a film of this historical nature and global sweep.

The film has had a mutedreception from press and preview audiences so far, and awards chances in majorcategories are looking slim, although domestic distributor Warner Bros willbenefit from a number of technical nominations.

Warner has put together somepowerful trailers for the film, but all distributors will face a marketingdilemma in that the core heterosexual male demographic who will be turned on bythe epic battles in the film will be turned off by the strong homosexualovertones off the battlefield. Wolfgang Petersen chose to ignore the loveaffair between Achilles and Patroclus in Troy, but Oliver Stone does notwith Alexander and Hephaistion.

It's awe-inspiring to watchStone's Herculean zeal, bordering on hubris, in bringing the story of the greatemperor to the screen, complete with life-sized set of the Hanging Gardens OfBabylon and gigantic battle scenes shot in Morocco and Thailand. Unfortunately,as he and countless others have discovered, Alexander's life story itself isnot an easy one to squeeze into a movie narrative, and while Stone battled withthe screenplay for decades, it still doesn't cohere into a compelling movienarrative.

Especially problematic isthe flashback narration of the aged Ptolemy, played by Anthony Hopkins, whosememories of and intellectual rambles about the emperor as a young man frame thefilm. The Hopkins passages at once lend a pomposity and artificiality to thefilm, exacerbated by the actor's theatrical delivery and the phoney sets of thelibrary of Alexandria where he is telling the tale.

In the opening 45 minutes,as Stone lays out Alexander's childhood, the film struggles to break out ofthis contrivance. Bad wigs, bad accents, bad makeup and English characteractors abound (yes, even Brian Blessed pops up) and the sight of ChristopherPlummer in a toga as Aristotle is risible. It feels more like Clash Of TheTitans than Oliver Stone goes classical.

We learn of the young boy'sheritage, as the son of the great Macedonian king Philip II (Kilmer) andOlympias (Jolie), the scheming queen whose survival in the treacherous court ofPella depends of Alexander's survival as the heir to the throne. Colin Farrellis introduced as the young adult Alexander, arguing with his father whiletrying to escape his mother's control.

Stone makes a puzzlingchoice in then switching back to Ptolemy who hastily relates Philip's murderand Alexander's first conquests (and massacres) before returning to the storywhen Alexander is facing Darius, the Persian king at the battle of Gaugemala.

Fortunately, the movie freesitself from artifice when the battle begins and although Alexander's strategyis unclear, the sheer scale of the brutal combat on show brings the film tolife. We share Alexander's wonder as he marches into Babylon and takes the cityof the Persians.

The remainder of the filmfollows the emperor and his armies on their seven-year quest through Asia, hisrelationships with his trusted childhood friend and lover Hephaistion (Leto),his wife Roxane (Dawson) and his generals (Rhys Meyers and Elliot Cowan as theyounger Ptolemy among them), and illustrates his powers as a warrior and hiswisdom as a conqueror.

For all his boldness ininsisting the homosexual elements be included, Stone's handling of the sexualrelationships is awkward. He downplays any overt romantic bond betweenAlexander and Hephaistion, yet with Alexander and Roxane, he goes for anall-out erotic love-making scene, presenting mixed messages about Alexander'slove life which will confuse audiences. Yes, they may not be ready to see afull-on gay relationship in a movie of this cost but, in emasculating the emperor'slove for Hephaistion, Stone extinguishes a fire which could have helped usbetter understand the man.

Indeed the character ofAlexander himself remains elliptical despite an 11th hour flashback to Philip'smurder which reveals Olympias's role in it and suggests that she is the key toher son's wanderlust.

Some stretches likeAlexander's impassioned speech to his men to carry on marching or the battlescene in India are mesmerising and show Stone at his most imaginative andfocused. The director elicits a passionate and muscular performance fromFarrell which embodies the charisma of such a young king. The magnetic Jolieovercomes the unintentional camp of her bizarre eastern European accent to givesporadic injections of vitality into the drama whenever she pops up.

As for the other accents,Stone opted not only to keep Farrell's Irish accent but to make all theMacedonians (Kilmer and Leto included) speak with Irish accents as well. It's adaring move which is for the most part effective although in a post-PassionOf The Christ landscape, even English accents come across a little ersatz.

Production values arelavish, in particular the production and costume design. The cinematography byRodrigo Prieto (21 Grams, 8 Mile) captures the light of Asian vistasas vividly as the luxurious interiors.

Prod cos: Intermedia Films in association with IMF
US dist:
Warner Bros
Int'l dist:
Exec prods:
Paul Rassam, MatthiasDeyle
Thomas Schuhly, Jon Kilik,Iain Smith, Moritz Borman
Oliver Stone and ChristopherKyle and Laeta Kalogridis
Rodrigo Prieto
Prod des:
Jan Roelfs
Tom Nordberg, Yann Herve,Alex Marquez
Main cast:
Colin Farrell,Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson,Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Gary Stretch, Brian Blessed, JohnKavanagh, Nick Dunning