February 22, 2024

Movie followers have lengthy been conscious auteur legend Stanley Kubrick’s dream undertaking was a giant, sweeping epic about French officer-emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Destiny wouldn’t be on the filmmaker’s facet regardless of his many makes an attempt, and he would ultimately choose making Barry Lyndon (1975) to a worthy reception.

Now, virtually 5 a long time later, we’ve got a giant, sweeping epic from Ridley Scott on the Frenchman titled merely Napoleon. However slightly than channel Kubrick — like Scott did together with his Lyndon-esque movie debut The Duellists (1977) — Napoleon is funnily sufficient, extra consistent with Sofia Coppola.

This isn’t to say the brand new film has comparable path to Coppola. It appears to be like and feels similar to a Ridley Scott image. However the director really appeared way more taken with Bonaparte’s marriage to his first spouse Joséphine than he’s with France’s historical past. It’s much like how Coppola’s depiction of the French King and Queen in Marie Antoinette (2006), or Marie Kreutzer’s tackle Austria’s Emperor Franz and Empress Sissi in Corsage (2022).

In Scott’s movie, we see Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) go from modest military officer to emperor from 1793 to 1821 throughout and after the French Revolution. On this display screen interpretation, Bonaparte is motivated to win the respect of Europe not by energy, wit or peace — however simply so he can get again to his tumultuous and passionate relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby).

In between main bloody battles and invading lands, we’ve got Napoleon writing love letters to Joséphine, which she hardly ever responds to, and begging her to present him an inheritor. Rupert Everett, Tahar Rahim and Sinéad Cusack co-star.

Whereas having Joséphine turn into the middle of Napoleon is an attention-grabbing thought, the issue is Scott doesn’t fully embrace the love-story angle as the primary theme. Lots of the motion sequences and discussions between army and authorities officers really feel shoehorned, both by behavior from Scott, or from the studio pushing for them to be included.

A few large points are the performances and characterizations. Kirby is slightly good and does properly with the fabric she’s given, however Phoenix is woefully miscast and distractingly misplaced. He’s nice when Napoleon needs to be offended and pissed off, however awkward and unconvincing when he’s imagined to be pathetic and immature.

I additionally simply didn’t care very a lot for the way both of the leads are portrayed. Joséphine comes off vein and egocentric, whereas Napoleon is a silly pushover, and neither have sufficient appeal to tug off the Euro equal of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

From what I perceive, David Scarpa’s screenplay is sort of like British propaganda from a historic standpoint. How does Bonaparte have so many supporters and an ideal monitor report if he might be simply overpowered by his spouse? Phoenix is uncharacteristically an entire charisma vacuum on display screen.

I’ve learn that Scott and Scarpa supposed Napoleon to be a satirical dissection of the idea of sensible, highly effective males. If that’s the case, that doesn’t actually work right here both, as a result of the tone and execution are performed fully straight, much like Scott’s earlier action-heavy costume items Gladiator (2000) and The Final Duel (2021). 

On the finish of the day, I don’t perceive why Scott selected Bonaparte for his newest historic function. Napoleon Bonaparte being a simp who couldn’t say no to Joséphine de Beauharnais is simply not that attention-grabbing of a narrative, and Scott clearly couldn’t resolve if Napoleon must be a romantic drama or a warfare epic.