Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘Napoleon’ comes up short

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

A historical biography of one of the most notorious conquerors the world has ever seen portrayed by one the great actors of our time and helmed by one of the more meticulously detailed directors should have yielded an obvious Oscar contender. Instead, “Napoleon” is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Uninspired acting and a plot rife with historical inaccuracies along with significant gaps in continuity and context show a film beleaguered by laziness.

France in the late 18th century, broiled in turmoil, looks to a leader to bring them out of despondency. Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix), whose brilliance in military strategy has brought France many victories in battle, experiences a meteoric rise in rank and power. Along the way, he finds the love of his life, a widowed mother by the name of Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). With her by his side, there’s nothing Napoleon feels he can’t accomplish, including becoming the emperor of France.

In the early 19th century with most of Europe under his thumb or allied with him, Napoleon’s confidence and ego empowers him to take the fight to his enemies, the British and Russians. His inability to sire an heir with his wife and consistent rumors of Josephine’s infidelity create an undercurrent of speculation about France’s future, threatening to undermine his standing with his allies. Looking to control the narrative by making questionable decisions, especially in battle, leads to catastrophic losses and marks the beginning of the end for Napoleon.

Director Ridley Scott can scoff and ridicule French critics all he wants, but they were correct in their assessment of this movie. The number of historical inaccuracies throughout “Napoleon” is staggering, destroying the credibility of the film. In the movie, Napoleon is shown being present for Marie Antoinette’s execution when in fact he wasn’t. There’s a moment when Napoleon orders his troops to fire cannons into the Great Pyramids of Giza, when this also never happened. He was depicted riding into battle with his cavalry, but once again pure fiction. Even the marketing tagline for the movie was false suggesting that Napoleon came from nothing when he was actually born into nobility. These are just a few of the more obvious examples showing Ridley Scott’s ignorance of historically documented facts. This, however, is not the reason for the film’s undoing. Look at the Oscar winning film, “Braveheart,” which embellished the truth frequently but is still one of the greatest films ever made. Without a compelling, emotionally impactful story, historical inaccuracies cannot be overlooked.

The story is completely disjointed and marred by gaping holes that never get resolved. Several of the battle sequences being depicted provide little to no context as to why the battle is even happening. The audience is literally thrown from scene to scene with no explanation, decreasing viewers’ connectivity to the outcomes. Not even the main character erroneously charging into danger could muster any kind of excitement when there’s no clearly defined purpose or significance to the fight. Scott spends a good amount of time exploring the romantic side of Napoleon’s life, but even that comes across bland and uninteresting, lacking passion.

The four-time Oscar nominated director, who’s created some highly celebrated films in his career like “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” and “Gladiator,” obviously lacked commitment to this project. It feels like the equivalent of writing a book report on the CliffsNotes version of the novel. Ridley Scott hits all the major events in Napoleon’s timeline but offers no depth whatsoever. The cinematography is unimaginative and attention to detail is severely lacking, both of which have been Scott’s strengths in the past. The fact that filming only took 61 days to complete illustrates his churn and burn attitude. He doesn’t even bother having the actors correctly use French accents, opting for mostly British accents, further tarnishing the film’s authenticity.

Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t even attempt an accent, opting to speak in his normal dialect. In fact, it becomes quite evident that he knows nothing of who this historical figure was and makes no attempt to learn. He depicts him as being meek, socially awkward, reclusive, and unlikable. Napoleon was quite the opposite, he was charming and charismatic, extremely well liked, not to mention a passionate lover. The diminutive conqueror was also only 24 years old when he won his first major military battle, not the 49 years old Phoenix was at the time of filming. This was a poor casting choice and a rare, disconnected performance from the Oscar winning actor of “Joker.”

Vanessa Kirby, on the other hand, provided a more heartfelt performance that resonates with much needed intensity. Despite the lack of on-screen chemistry between her and Phoenix, Kirby immersed herself more fully in the role, making viewers more interested in her story than that of the title character.

Ultimately, the Oscar buzz this film received preceding its release is unwarranted and undeserved. “Napoleon” is nothing more than a weak depiction of a powerful historical figure that does not even yield educational value let alone entertainment value.

This movie earns:

Share this!

Additional Articles

News Categories

Get Our Twice Weekly Newsletter!

* indicates required

Rose Law Group pc values “outrageous client service.” We pride ourselves on hyper-responsiveness to our clients’ needs and an extraordinary record of success in achieving our clients’ goals. We know we get results and our list of outstanding clients speaks to the quality of our work.

November 2023