Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2007)
Like a dog with a particularly beloved chew toy, Oliver Stone just can’t stop playing with 2004’s Alexander. 2007’s Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut stands as the movie’s third released variation. There was the 175-minute theatrical version and the 167-minute Director’s Cut. With the Final Cut, we get a considerably extended look at things, as it runs almost 40 minutes longer than the original theatrical edition.
The story remains the same, though the structure differs. Bracketed by narration from an elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), this edition starts with 20-something Alexander (Colin Farrell) as he leads his Macedonian forces against the Persian army commanded by King Darius (Raz Degan). After years of bloody conflict, Alexander eventually succeeds and becomes the ruler of the Persian Empire. This takes us to age 25. The rest of the movie follows Alexander’s remaining seven years of life and all his conquests. These take him to the limits of the world known at the time and see how much of that territory he ruled. also watch how he deals with others close to him such as boyhood friend – and more – Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson).
In addition to those elements followed chronologically, the movie often leaps into the past to show what brought Alexander to that point. We also see the events that influenced his character and desires. We meet his abrasive father King Philip (Val Kilmer) and his freaky mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie). The pieces coalesce as they tell the tale of Alexander and his empire.
I didn’t see the theatrical Alexander, so I can’t comment on it. I really didn’t care for the Director’s Cut of the film, though, as I thought it was too chatty and dull. Stone talked the audience to death and rarely used visuals to depict matters. He took an exciting tale and made it shockingly boring.
While I can’t say that the Final Cut turns that sow’s ear into a silk purse, I do think it creates a considerable improvement over its predecessor. Even though the Final Cut goes with a less strictly chronological view, it actually becomes much more coherent. The flashbacks help illustrate personality elements rather than serve to stand on their own, and that makes them more engaging.
The choice to start with the fight against Persia also helps draw us into the action more quickly. As I mentioned, the earlier version was awfully talky and stiff. Some of those elements still materialize – especially in the conclusion, which threatens never to end – but Stone lets the visuals work for him more actively here. Though the fact we get less clear exposition should make matters more confusing, the opposite is true. This cut feels better thought-out and more intelligible.
The lead character benefits from this. Stone shies away from all the Freudian interpretation of the prior version in this take. Sure, we still get a little of that, but the Olympias character plays a much smaller role, a change for the good. Indeed, the involvement of Olympias and Philip is less prominent, so we’re not stuck with dime store psychology.
Instead, the Final Cut prefers to look at Alexander as a visionary. We see his quest to unite cultures and can view him as a man ahead of his time rather than just a wussy bossed around by his mommy. Farrell proves more effective in this context. I didn’t care for him in the Director’s Cut, as it emphasized his royalty. Without that view of things, I can better accept his more working class feel. I won’t say he stands out as strong in the role, but he’s fine; at least he doesn’t act like a negative.
I can’t clearly delineate all the changes made for the Final Cut. I only saw the Director’s Cut once, and I don’t remember it well enough from that summer 2005 screening to offer specifics. I can say that it greatly alters the structure as mentioned above, and it definitely includes racier content. There’s a much heavier depiction of Alexander’s homosexuality, and – happy news for the straight boys! - we get more nude shots of Rosario Dawson.
I think the secondary characters receive better development in the Final Cut. While few stood out as memorable in the Director’s Cut, they actually show personality here. We can differentiate among them and take them as their own characters – to a decent degree, at least. The movie doesn’t follow them terrifically well, but I’m happy that they manage to come across as something other than simple background noise.
I can’t say that Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut turns the material into a great movie. It’s still too long-winded and a bit scattered. That said, this edition offers greater clarity and seems more dynamic than its earlier takes. The Director’s Cut bores me, but the Final Cut manages to keep me reasonably involved.