The big year-end movies are often solemn, sensitive items: women's work after 11 months of guy stuff. But Oliver Stone is alpha male incarnate, and his pictures, from Platoon to JFK to Any Given Sunday, are celebrations and autopsies of overweening machismo. Alexander, his first fiction film in five years, promises plenty more of the same. Instead of a stately epic--like Robert Rossen's 1956 Alexander the Great, with Richard Burton as the globe-annexing god-king--Stone presents a riot of sensations, military and erotic, through which Alexander (Colin Farrell) has to hack like an intrepid soldier through an unfamiliar jungle. All of which makes for a long, lumpy trip with a charismatic guide and some brilliant detours.
The script follows what is known about Alexander, who left the Ionian peninsula to sweep the fabled Babylon and India into his ambitious embrace. But Stone, who wrote the film with Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis, sees the old Greek fables as horror stories, Olympus as Hades and the Macedonian royal family--led by one-eyed Philip (Val Kilmer) and his spiteful bride Olympias (Angelina Jolie)--drowning in lust and supernal rancor. In this realm, the king is the last man conscious at an orgy, just as Stone is still drunk on the pricey, preposterous adventure of moviemaking. And at 58, he's still standing.
Alexander, dead more than two millenniums, may appear a remote subject for this agit-historian, whose docudramas have ventured no further into the past than the last mid-century. But the new movie has plenty of contemporary reverberations. This Alexander is a clear model for George W. Bush, pursuing destiny or delusion from the civilized West into Babylon-Baghdad, completing the quest George H.W. Bush left unfinished. Warned that this "was not your father's mission," the young king replies, "And I am not my father."
Or Alexander could be Stone--a crafty-crazy visionary who legendarily drives himself, his crew and his films through chaos and into creativity. In this shadow autobiography, Alexander's India is Stone's Vietnam, the land where he fought in the infantry and the subject of so many of his films. In the battle scenes in India, trained elephants materialize as if in a Nam soldier's dope dream, and the screen goes red. At this moment of hallucinogenic hyperdrama, the camera almost literally has blood in its eye.
The hole in the center of this mythic history is Farrell, who looks overwhelmed and diminished by the burden of carrying an epic movie on his bulked-up shoulders. Jolie, however, is right at home as his mother. A sorceress lolling among snakes--the sexiest Gorgon, whose stare melts the screen--she spits out seductive invectives in a crypto-Carpathian accent; Olympias may be Philip's wife, but she is Dracula's daughter. And Jolie inhabits her with an awful grandeur. The archetypal housewife furious at her husband's philandering, she tells Philip, "In my womb I carried my avenger." Jolie's real vengeance is to invade the film's story and conquer it. This man's movie is a woman's triumph after all. --By Richard Corliss