Gorgeous Irène (the extraordinary Audrey Tautou) loves her life as the girlfriend of an ultra-wealthy much-older man (Vernon Dobtcheff). The clothes the shoes the food the five-star hotels! But he gets drunk and passes out on the night of her birthday and so late that night she heads to the hotel bar for some company. What she finds is an empty bar--no barman on duty--and an oddly handsome young man (Gad Elmaleh) in a tuxedo asleep on one of the lounge’s couches. We know from earlier sequences that he is the barman but one look at Irène and Jean decides for that night at least to pretend that he is a multimillionaire. That deception leads to a romantic one-night stand and Irène leaves the next morning. Cut to one year later she returns to the hotel now the fiancée of the old man dripping in diamonds and living the life she has always believed is her destiny (despite her humble beginnings). When she and Jean rekindle for another fling all is lost when her fiancé discovers her infidelity. And so the comedy really begins as Jean tries to take his place only to find that her style of living drains his bank account almost immediately. The resulting lengths he goes to in order to win her love creates a series of comedic (and sometimes poignant) moments that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits roll. How can you not adore Audrey Tautou? Forget her foray into Hollywood in The Da Vinci Code where she simply played the sidekick to Tom Hanks’ leading man; think instead of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement in which her full talents have already been showcased. In Priceless writer-director Pierre Salvadori admits he wrote the role of Irène with her in mind and it is a perfect fit. As Irène she is so sexy so adorable so filled with life and yet riddled with the fear of not having money that she will do just about anything to have it that she almost instantly grabs hold of your heart. No matter what she does how badly she treats Jean when she discovers that he is poor you cannot help but be on her side hoping she is able to attain the wealth she so desperately desires. Her ability to show the inner depths of her emotions through just her eyes is extraordinary; this is a performance that deserves numerous accolades. Equal to the task of playing opposite her is Gad Elmaleh an actor whose face is not exactly handsome yet is so appealing that we quickly fall for him as well. He struggles to find a way to keep Irène close despite not having the millions he needs to afford her. The duo creates a winning combination that will make you believe that love can actually win out even in the most seemingly impossible situations. Director Pierre Salvadori readily admits that his deft touch with screwball comedy comes from his love of the films of Hollywood great Ernst Lubitsch the master of the genre (think Ninotchka To Be or Not to Be The Shop Around the Corner Heaven Can Wait). Happily Salvadori has succeeded admirably in creating a film worthy of the comparison. With no sentimentality but plenty of romance he creates a world where his characters change evolve and eventually allow their hearts to lead the way. It is the rare filmmaker who is able to create classics of this genre for often the stories are either too predictable--we always know from the start for example that the leads in any romantic comedy will end up together but it is the journey to get there that makes or breaks a film. Or perhaps the romantic comedy is too sappy and corny for our hearts to really believe in the story. Priceless is neither. Instead it is a rollicking funny and even poignant (for just a moment) comedy that will make you remember the fun you had while watching it. In other words Priceless is a quintessentially great romantic comedy and not to be missed.
Elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who once served under the great Alexander (Colin Farrell) narrates the life story of the man the myth the legend--the son of the ambitious King Philip (Val Kilmer) who surpassed his father at every level and charged into the farthest reaches of the world. From early childhood in Macedonia we see where Alexander gets his drive--mostly from his vengeful snake-lovin' mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who urges her son to take charge as well from his tutor Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Even in the taming of his unbreakable horse Bucephalas at 10 years old Alexander's destiny is evident. The heart of the film lies in Persia which Alexander conquers in one of the most studied military battles of all time. Alexander spends a great deal of time there--taking in the culture claiming its riches and marrying a Bactrian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson)--much to the chagrin of his Macedonian generals who are stuck in this foreign land with their king. Despite this success Alexander grows restless and turns his attention to the rest of the world including the unexplored regions of India. With his army stretched thin and his Macedonian troops longing for home Alexander presses them one campaign too far. Succumbing to a mysterious illness at age 33 Alexander dies never quite finding what he so desperately searched for.
Although some may scoff at casting the Irish actor in the lead Farrell does an admirable job playing the tortured hero blond wig and all. He exudes plenty of wide-eyed fury and intensity as Alexander the warrior balanced by the controlled calculation of a hyper-effective military commander although he isn't nearly as effective as the idealistic pre-world-conqueror Alexander as he is spiraling down into the haunted angst-ridden Alexander at the end of his obsessive crusade. Casting Jolie as Olympias is a stroke of genius. Sure Jolie can play a smart and beautiful woman in her sleep but her beauty is surpassed only by the power she imbues as Alexander's bitter yet loving mother; she's as hypnotic as the snakes she carries around. Kilmer relishes his role as Alexander's father Philip in all of his grotesque wine-soaked glory. Powerful driven and battle-scarred Kilmer's Philip knows precisely what he wants and matches Jolie's quiet intensity with the raw aggressive masculinity of a warrior king who is far more comfortable in his armor than a toga. In the supporting roles Hopkins is great as always this time in the thankless role of the narrator while Dawson plays Roxane with a ferocity that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. Standout Jared Leto also turns in a concentrated performance as Hephaestion Alexander's long-time companion boyhood friend and the person who loves Alexander the best. (And we do mean love.)
Alexander is Oliver Stone at his best. An Alexander nut for most of his life the director gives us a film that--even in its loooong three-hour form--continuously holds your attention especially its intense and bloody battle scenes. I mean honestly once you've fought against an elephant in armor the plain old sword-and-shield skirmishes pale in comparison. Alexander also possesses a great breadth of visuals: Alexandria's peace Pella's tension Babylon's opulence and India's richness. Yet as wonderful as the landscapes are it's personal interactions and internal politics that drive the story--and of course Stone's penchant for conspiracy theories as he more than insinuates Alexander was poisoned by his enemies rather than dying of an "unknown" illness. But a problem still remains: Alexander's life was so huge and he did so much that it's almost impossible to encapsulate it effectively into one film. Stone instead has to focus on what he thinks is the most important namely Alexander's renowned conquests while allowing the pressure cooker in which the young conqueror grew up--the triangle of mother father and son--come through in the decisions he makes later in life. For those few of us who have studied Alexander Stone has made this film especially for us. If you haven't spent any time reading Arrian and the other histories this excellent film might just inspire you to do so.