Of those directors who easily disappoint, Oliver Stone is something of a perennial. Once upon a time, those around me waited with bated breath to see what he’d do next, back when Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and JFK (1991) were all the rage… and wiped out memory of true oddities like The Hand (1981), Talk Radio (1988), The Doors (1991) and Heaven & Earth (1993). Or U-Turn (1997), his Russ Meyer movie and a very weird failure. Stone is big on sermonizing and filling time with dates, facts, fibs and figures on hot button topics. For my money, his best movie is the football flick Any Given Sunday (1999), simply because it’s the only one he seems to have had any fun making.
Angelina Jolie in Alexander
With this in mind, I let Stone’s Alexander (2004) slip by despite Angelina Jolie’s appearance as Olympias. Truth be told, I’m not big on historic Biblical-type epics, I don’t know jack shit about Alexander the Great, and this lox hasn’t exactly inspired me to crack open the history books any time soon. Plus, the movie’s three-and-a-half hours long. At least the version that’s available from Netflix. Things aren’t like they were years ago when a filmmaker or a studio made a movie and released it as is; today there are various versions because nobody’s got the balls to commit themselves to one finished, complete vision. At least in mainstream American film. But it’s gotten way out of hand, all these extra versions concocted for additional video sales. I hate to think of movies I can no longer see because ‘Director’s Cuts’ and ‘Extended Editions’ have replaced the original release prints. As far as I know, the 1979 version of Apocalypse Now is gone, replaced by its inferior Reduxed form, a laborious effort which only succeeds in displaying what a masterful job of cutting Coppola did on the shorter original theatrical release. The Cinema V edit of Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), missing some twenty minutes for American audiences, was a vast improvement over his sluggish ‘complete’ British version. It’s also the one that got the better reviews. Alas, it, too, may be gone for good.
I wouldn’t mind if all prints of any version of Alexander were gone for good. What a mess of a movie. I even disliked Angie in it. Let me tell you: I usually like her in anything. I’ve sat through some real horrendous cheese for that woman: Cyborg 2 (1993), Hackers (1995), Love is All There Is (1996), Playing God (1997), films I can barely remember. (I will say that one of her pre-stardom pictures, Hell’s Kitchen from 1999, was pretty raw and harrowing.) But Alexander is, in so many ways, worse than the obvious turkeys. It’s jumbled, confusing, so incredibly incoherent. There are battle scenes with subtitles telling us which side of the battlefield we’re on, right, left or center. But wherever the camera sits, it’s just a cloud of dust and swords and arrows and horses, void of tension, reason or purpose… or direction.
And Angie seems to be there collecting a paycheck. Her performance is done by rote; there’s no sense of passion or craft. Not that Stone has ever been good with female characters. Except perhaps Cameron Diaz in Any Given Sunday — I still love her locker room scene in that. But Stone’s women are generally cardboard cutouts, superficial and dumb. Not that his male characters have ever been that much better. He’s never gone under the skin of his characters; he’s hesitant to explore them as humans. Instead, they become anonymous figures trapped by fate. Is there one human character in JFK? To me, it’s a circus of faces reciting circumstances and times and police reports. The portrayal of the marriage of Jim and Liz Garrison (Kevin Costner and Sissy Spacek) is laughably naïve. Stone doesn’t want any part of all that messy grownup stuff.
But JFK was a lot of fun to watch, no matter the idiocy. One can’t say the same for Alexander. Within minutes, the screenplay time-trips with no tether to comprehension. Stone had so little confidence in his subject’s dramatic range that he reverted to the worn contemporary cliché of sequential disarray, which, in this case, makes things as bewildering and as dull as possible. And there in the middle of this mishegas is my Angie, playing with snakes. Just the thought of Angie playing with snakes should turn me on. But not this time.