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South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Napoleon’ is a strange little movie about a strange little man

Jack McCarty
Napoleon was released Nov. 22 to mixed reviews by critics and audiences alike, with some people condemning its historical inaccuracy.

I just want to start out by stating, if you are looking for a review that focuses on the historical elements of this movie, you are in the wrong place. While I do love history and consider myself a buff on certain topics, the Napoleonic Wars are not something I’m too familiar with.

Most of my knowledge about French history around this time comes from watching the numerous adaptations “Les Misérables” and the American education system, which is to say I don’t know a whole lot. I also want to be clear that I do think historical accuracy is important in movies, however, it isn’t the only thing that matters. People are willing to forgive and forget embellishments so long as the rest of the movie is good. Look at “Braveheart.” Not only does that movie star one of the most detestable men in Hollywood, but it is notorious for being historically inaccurate, yet people love that movie. With that being said, I still don’t think “Napoleon” is that good, regardless of what it gets wrong historically.

Without a doubt, the fatal flaw of “Napoleon” is its pacing. At a time where blockbuster films routinely exceed three hours, I was shocked to find out that “Napoleon” is only two and a half hours long, but initially, I was relieved to hear that. I am one of the biggest critics when it comes to the exceeding average length of films now a days, so I thought this might be a breath of fresh air. It was not.

If there is a movie that deserves to be three plus hours, it’s a movie about Napoleon, one of the strangest and most fascinating figures in history. That doesn’t mean a shorter film couldn’t work, it just means that you need to make some sacrifices. If you want to focus on the relationship and romance between Napoleon and his wife/ex-wife Josephine, you have to leave the battles scenes on the cutting room floor. If you want to make an epic action war film, you can’t have Joaquine Phoenix reading love letters over footage of the Battle Austerlitz. If you want to have both, you need room for both, and there just isn’t enough room. It makes the film feel unfinnished and like it’s just running through a checklist of essential elements of Napoleons life without any thought put into making a coherent story.

The pacing makes the movie feel like it was written by a high school freshman that just recently got into history YouTube videos. “Obligatory guillotine scene? Check! Scene where Napoleon is coronated as emperor? Check! Scene reenacting The Battle of Waterloo? Check! How do any of these scenes lead into or even relate to each other? Who cares, it looks cool!” That’s the vibe I get from this movie. This also really hurts its accessibility because it almost feels like it expects you to have a good understanding of French history and politics at the time. I don’t think this was the intention, but it certainly comes across that way.

But I do think it’s important to remember that this film was made by Ridley Scott, the man who brought the idea of the “director’s cut” into the mainstream with “Bladerunner”. That movie flopped initially but then later gained traction as a cult classic because of Ridley Scott releasing his own cut of the film. What I’m trying to say is that it wouldn’t surprise me if within the next year we get an extra 30 to 90 minutes of additional footage in a director’s cut that will most likely be exclusive to Apple TV. If that happens, there’s no doubt that it would make this movie marginally better and coherent, but there are still some issues with the film that are just rotten to the core, and no amount of additional context could fix.

One of the most striking elements of the film is how awkward everyone acts, especially the star of the show, Napoleon, played by Joaquine Pheonix. There were times I felt like I was watching a sequel to “Joker” instead of a biopic about one of the most influential men in history. That’s not to say that his performance was necessarily bad, but his acting was extremely odd and distracting at times. It just made me uncomfortable in a way that I don’t think was intended by the film makers.

And speaking of awkward, I didn’t think anyone was going to be able to beat “Oppenheimer” for having the most awkward sex scene of the year, but by God, Ridley Scott somehow managed to do it. If there’s a will there’s a way, I guess. Honestly, I don’t think “Oppenheimer” even makes the top three anymore.

Another thing that kind of bothered me was that for potentially one of the most French films ever made, most of the people sounded oddly British. The one exception is Napoleon who sounds about as American as apple pie. I wouldn’t even mention it if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s only French people that don’t have their respective accents. The Russians have Russian accents, and the Prussians and Austrians have German accents. I understand not forcing Joaquine Phoenix to have an accent, because maybe his accents aren’t great or something, but then why make everyone else sound British? Why not have the French all sound American or, you know, French. It’s a very small detail but the more I think about it the more it frustrates me.

Now that’s not to say this movie is all bad or even not worth your time. If I’m being honest with myself, I did enjoy certain aspects quite a bit. I like the choice of color pallet for the most part, even though the muted colors did become a bit draining by the end of the film. It helped to give the film a feeling of authenticity. In some scenes it felt like I was watching a moving painting in a museum, which really works with the atmosphere that the movie is trying to go for. I also think that the battle scenes were worth the price of admission alone. And even I, and my antiwar hippie beliefs, love how epic each of the few battles we got to see felt, despite them feeling somewhat disconnected to the rest of the movie

At the end of the day, I was really let down by this movie. I adore Ridley Scott and most of his movies, and there are some very well-done elements that shine through, but the good stuff gets bogged down by a lack of focus, rushed pacing, and stiff dialogue. You can always count on Joaquine Phoenix to do an amazing job, but tragically he didn’t have enough material to work with to give his character depth or make him compelling in any meaningful way. I would still recommend it if you’re interested in this time in history because there are some things to take away, but not very much. For the most part this was a disappointing run of the mill popcorn flick that I will probably forget about before the end of the year, despite all the odd decisions that went into making it. It’s still worth a watch, but save your money now and wait for it to come out on streaming. 5/10.

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Jack McCarty, Entertainment Editor

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