Monday, January 23, 2023

Recasting 2005 (supporting): "Alexander"

There's probably not a single person in the world who would've guessed that I'd choose Oliver Stone's movie about Alexander the Great for my 2005 selection in this project. One simple reason might be that the movie was actually released in 2004. The second is that there isn't necessarily an obvious role that one would think Meryl was be suitable for. A third reason could be that the movie was kind of a stinker. But I have my reasons, which I'll happily explain now. 

I've always thought it would be great to see Meryl in a big, sweeping epic along the lines of Gladiator. I'm a history buff, and when special effects became good enough for us to be at least marginally convinced that certain scenes could pass for the real thing, I enjoyed spending the time watching those types of movies. Troy comes to mind as well. Alexander came with such high expectations. A big-time director, star actors, a huge budget, an obvious appetite from audiences. But it doesn't always work. We'll get to the specifics on the original film's quality in a bit, but something grabbed my memory of this film during quarantine, and I ended up realizing that there may have been a role that would've suited Meryl nicely. 

Colin Farrell portrays Alexander "the Great" of Macedon, who essentially conquered most of the known world in the fourth century BCE. His mother's name was Olympius, a Greek princess who married Phillip of Macedon, who became king of Macedonia when Alexander was three. One of the strangest bits of casting in this movie is Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympius. She is less than one year older than Farrell. I get that Olympius was supposed to seem alluring and like a snake-charmer, and that she claimed that Alexander's real father was Zeus himself. I also realize that Oliver Stone probably wanted to play up a sort of sexual tension between mother and son in the movie. But it all just seemed weird. So did Jolie's choice of a vaguely Eastern European accent, the only of its kind if a movie of about a thousand people who mostly sound like they're from somewhere in the British Isles. 

I would've LOVED to see Meryl in this type of role at some point. Let's remember that she came very close to working with Oliver Stone in the late 80s on a film version of Evita. My guess is that the two of them already had at least some level of a relationship. It's not outrageous to wonder whether or now she could've been considered for the role of a mother who's son (for most of the movie at least) is in his twenties and thirties. For the record, Meryl would've been 53 at the time this movie was filmed starting in early 2003. We know she can believably play people ten years younger, plus movie magic and makeup/hair would've helped to make it very believable that she was Colin Farrell's mother. Much more than Jolie, anyway. Imagine Meryl all done up in big hair with sun-kissed skin and a form-fitting Greek tunic. Fierce. 

There's also the role itself. It's an interesting character, beyond the sort of controlling mother working behind the scenes as a bit of a puppet master to ensure her progeny's military or dynastic success. It reminds me of Meryl's role of Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate. Obviously, the setting and the stakes are somewhat different, but there are similarities in regard to the machinations undertaken to gain or maintain power. I love that sort of intrigue, a la The Lion in Winter and Game of Thrones. 

Talk about your Oedipus complex. This would've been fun to watch Meryl negotiate. And OMG the spitting in the face is savage.  

Let's talk for a second about how bad of a film the original cut is. A measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 39. Yikes. It was also a box office bomb. The storylines are jumbled, the voiceovers from Anthony Hopkins's Ptolemy are tedious, and the characters distant. But there's a caveat. Stone was not satisfied with his finished product, and he ended up doing a director's cut for the DVD release on 2005 (no big deal there, a lot do). But he then went back two years later and did a "final unrated cut." Finally, the "ultimate cut" was released ten years after the film's initial theatrical release. And it's this version for which I would've intended to reinsert Meryl as Olympius. 

Knowing that filming started in early 2003 and was released in theaters a year and half later, I wonder if Stone could've worked out his ultimate cut had they pushed the release back another year, to 2005 (thus my year selection for this project). Then maybe it would've actually done well with both critics and in theaters. I rewatched the film recently (the ultimate cut), and I thought it was very entertaining, and went by pretty fast, considering it was three and a half hours. There's a really interesting article from Peter Sobczynski for on this final version from Stone, with a general consensus I'm finding to be that this last version is by far a superior film, and even a good film on its own. Sobczynski writes at one point:

And yet, the film, especially in its current version, has plenty of good things going for it—exciting battle sequences, a thought-provoking approach that tries to look at Alexander through ancient and contemporary eyes and a memorable supporting turn from Angelina Jolie. (Some have accused her of going over-the-top, but when you're playing a snake-obsessed queen with an unnatural fondness for a son you believe was fathered by Zeus himself, you don't want to undersell the part.) At its best moments, such as Alexander's speech before the Battle of Gaugamela and his heroic horseback charge against an elephant during the final fight in India, the movie packs the kind of grandly glorious punch that few filmmakers would dare to attempt, and that even fewer could successfully pull off.

I agree. Had this been the version that got released in theaters, I think we'd be looking back at Alexander as not a forgettable and overblown costume/war drama, but rather a stunning depiction of ancient Babylon, fit with gripping battle scenes and characters for whom we actually give a shit. 


  1. Completely unexpected suggestion Jeff but I could see how this might work given your revised conditions. I remember all the criticism of the movie at the time and how long it was to sit through. I'd be entirely onboard with Meryl in this epic if it had been given more time to perfect instead of (by the sounds of it) rushed out without Stone being happy with it. I agree it would be joyful to watch Meryl in a challenging (and glamorous role) in an epic!

    My own humble choice would be the role of Charlize Theron's mother in the now all-but-forgotten "North Country" as originally played by Frances McDormand. I recall the movie being quite gritty and with a message that's more pertinent now than ever.

    1. North Country was very much on my radar, especially since it takes place in my home state of Minnesota. but it just wasn't a movie that I was a big fan of. I remember a couple years ago when I was compiling my list for this project and I think I tried watching it again and for whatever reason I just didn't like the role that much or felt like it was too close to something Meryl had done. I honestly can't put my finger on it, but I know I debated for a bit. It's sort of bugging me why I crossed it off my list, but I'm sure I had a specific reason!