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NAPOLEON REVIEW - CAUTION, MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS…
The problem, of course, is trying to portray anything meaningful about a titan of history like Napoleon in less than three hours of screen time. It took me over a million words to cover his life and even then I was scratching the surface. Somehow, Ridley Scott has managed to make a film of 158 minutes feel like a lifetime.
It is, without doubt, the worst film I have seen in the last few years. For sure, the surface of the tale had Scott’s trademark visual sumptuousness and the costume department came through in spades. That’s where the good news ends, alas. Most of the performances are wooden. The script feels like it was written in 30 seconds by an AI program trained on Wikipedia. It all comes across as flat.
Much has already been written about the film’s historical inaccuracies. I have stretched a point of accuracy on occasion but NAPOLEON left me gasping and often watching events unfold through my fingers. Now, I know it’s a film and there is such a thing as cinematic licence, but it’s a film that is aimed in large part at those interested in its protagonist living through a watershed historical period, so I cannot understand why Scott chose to butcher the history to such an extent that it is no better off than the mangled horse blown apart by a cannon ball early on in the movie. Large details of history as well as small details are ruthlessly churned through the accuracy grinder and spewed out the far side. Along the way we ‘learn’ that Napoleon abandoned his army in Egypt because he was cross about Josephine’s infidelity. That the Battle of Waterloo was fought from trenches. That the fort guarding the approaches to Toulon was smack bang in the town itself. That the British artillery used split trail gun carriages. That Austerlitz was fought on ice. At every point, the representation of history takes a false step. And boy, does it jar.
Worse still, for those who aren’t familiar with the history (like my wife), it comes across as a rambling, confusing precis of history. There’s a war on, then it’s over and there’s no sense of any reason why. There’s also no sense of Napoleon’s charisma. Remember, this was a man whose presence on a battlefield Wellington estimated to be worth tens of thousands of soldiers. A man who could flip the army’s loyalty merely by re-presenting himself to them in 1815 on his return from Elba. There’s no sense of the brilliance of Napoleon in rewriting the legal code and all the domestic reforms he was responsible for. He just comes across as a grump with an appetite for posterity who demonstrates no quality to match that aspiration. Part of the problem is the casting of Phoenix. A fine actor in many other roles. Here he just comes across as a Gallic Mr Bean with a perpetual hard-on for his flirty femme banal.
(Actually, I am being a bit unfair there. A better movie would have focused exclusively on the relationship between Napoleon and Josephine across the years).
Most of the cast are just reduced to walk ons and some major figures don’t even appear at all. No Murat, Joseph Bonaparte, Davout, Massena, Lannes. Wellington is portrayed by Rupert Everett as a sneering snob in such cartoonish fashion that he would give Stephen Fry a run for his money in a competition for most clownish depiction of Wellington.
Now, some of you are thinking that I am being a bit of a killjoy here. If your idea of a good movie is a one that looks like a history fashion show, filled with ponderous dialogue, big bangs, lots of CGI figures running amok, a few intended chuckles and many unintended laughs, then you’ll have an absolute blast. Anyone else is going to be watching those dateline subtitles that pop up from time to time and counting down the years to Waterloo with increasing impatience and desperation.
In the cinema where I watched it, the audience was up and out of there as soon as the end titles came up, filing out as they quietly muttered about wanting those hours of their lives back and a refund on the ticket. To add insult to injury our parking fee was just over the next hour…
by Simon Scarrow on FB
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