Napoleon – Movie Review

Not exactly dynamite

What’s it about?

A look at Napoleon Bonaparte’s (Joaquin Phoenix) origins and rise to power, and his volatile relationship with his wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby)

What did we think?

PETER LINNING says: Napoleon is a broad and unfocused biopic – not terrible, but seriously lacking in any redeeming qualities. We’re rushed through a half-baked Greatest Hits of Napoleon’s life at a breakneck pace, with our only indication of the character’s growing power and infamy coming from characters informing Napoleon of his growing power and infamy. His famously complicated relationship with Josephine is the most-explored of the movie’s myriad orphaned storylines, and even that manages to feel underdeveloped in comparison to the time it was allocated.

Napoleon is a 2 hour and 40 minute movie. You can make a movie that long about the battle of Waterloo, or about just Napoleon and Josephine, but this tries to cover too much ground and fails in almost every respect. The lead performances are let down by an awkward script, with Napoleon coming across as a horny sook and his characterisation coming courtesy of some of the worst tell-don’t-show I’ve ever seen. Although there’s some occasionally nice photography squeezed in here and there, the film’s technical faults even extend to the movie’s battle scenes – you know we’re in the darkest timeline when Ridley Scott directing the Battle of Waterloo has me checking my watch.

I really loved The Last Duel, and I’m genuinely really disappointed by this movie. It’s a hard pass from me. 3/10

ANTHONY SHERRATT says: While Napoleon is visually impressive, there’s little else positive to say about it. The staccato story jumps around like a YouTube edit, providing little context and no flow at all. Napoleon is portrayed as a socially awkward and quirky soldier whose early response to everything appears to merely be cannons. We really only see one moment of the tactical genius he is renowned for and director Ridley Scott seems determined to focus on negatives and casualties rather than the bigger picture of what the victories meant.

In fact the failure to focus on any one thing – choosing instead to jump time periods with only cursory glimpses of what actually happened – leaves you wondering whether there was any directorial vision at all.

Perhaps the vaunted four-hour edit will address some of these glaring issues, but this is less of a biopic and more a character assassination. Students of history will weep. I can’t remember the last time a film made me so angry. 2/10

Not tonight
A middling and meandering biopic, Napoleon and Josephine deserved better.
A raconteur by nature and motormouth by trade, the only thing Pete loves more than watching movies is a good debate about movies. He'll argue with anyone about anything, and enjoy it more than is socially acceptable.
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