Ridley Scott's Napoleon

An Odd Mockery

Jiří Stacho

12/8/20232 min read

When it comes to history movies, I usually try to evaluate the movie from an entertainment standpoint and not be nitpicky about historical inaccuracies. It’s not intended to be a documentary; filmmakers often change things up a bit for the purpose of being more cinematic. However, Ridley Scott does the exact opposite and purposefully avoids perfect silver screen moments and instead shows us disorganized brawls and trenches. The movie feels like a slacking middle schooler’s book report.

Ridley Scott’s childish response (''…were you there? No? Well, shut the f… up then'') to history buffs criticizing the movie just adds insult to injury. This portrayal of Napoleon is not that of an intelligent and charismatic commander, and soldiers would most definitely not die for this man. The main problem is that the goal of this movie seems to be to disparage and embarrass Napoleon in every possible way, ignoring everything impressive about him and putting Josephine to the forefront as both a poor victim as well as a manipulator who plays Napoleon like a fiddle. This obvious discrepancy is just one of many baffling things in the movie.

It’s really about Josephine and Napoleon’s relationship with some battle stuff thrown in. That wouldn't be so bad if the relationship had some depth and emotions which it does not have. The battles are mostly unimpressive and forgettable. The battle scenes are short and shallow and absolutely fail to pull you in. And much like the battles are shallow the same goes for the characters.

Phoenix’s not at all bothered with portraying Napoleon. He phones it in and simply plays himself. Vanessa Kirby gives a much better performance than Phoenix. There is not a single character that is developed or resonates with me. Part of the issue is the pacing. It’s not really a movie but a series of short vaguely related sequences at best. The script is strange to say the least. I have no idea how lines like “destiny has brought me this lamb chop” were intended. If the purpose was to leave you dumbfounded, then it succeeded.

There are two filters used throughout the film: Mexican (yellow) and blueish grey which is unfortunately often used for historical movies because everybody knows that colors were invented with the first iPhone. Paradoxically the past was much more colorful than the modern day which is mostly shrouded in grey.

Ridley Scott’s work has always been a hit or miss. Napoleon is a definite miss. Value your time and watch Bondarchuk’s “Waterloo” instead.