Joaquin Phoenix drops the ball as Napoleon in new movie

Ridley Scott’s 2000 film “Gladiator” is one of my top five favorite films. “The Blade Runner,” “Alien” and “The Martian” are amongst his most notable works, and recently he released “Napoleon.”

Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix stars as the famed military commander and former emperor of France, while Vanessa Kirby shines beside him as his lover, Josephine.

Seeing Phoenix in a starring role immediately earned this movie its hype, myself included. His performances as Arthur Fleck in “The Joker” and as Commodus in “Gladiator” are extremely commendable, with his role as Fleck earning him the Oscar.

Unfortunately, though, his portrayal of Napoleon was mediocre. There was only one scene that really showcased his talent, but one scene during a two and a half hour movie is not nearly enough. 

He was the only person in the movie who did not have an accent and for a film that had a budget of up to 200 million dollars, I feel like he could have hired a vocal coach. 

I was so disappointed about this, because he was really the main reason I wanted to see the movie in the first place. This might not have been his fault, though, as the script did not really provide him with much.

I think one particular line from the movie will do a better job at explaining this than I can: “Destiny has brought me to this lamb chop.”

One of the other biggest faults this film had was that it did not go deeper, we essentially just scratched the surface of this character. It left me with so many unanswered questions: what was France like under his leadership? How did it change? What happened to the rest of his family, especially the son whom he tried so hard to have? What was his relationship like with his second wife and how did that differ from Josephine? Most importantly — why does Napoleon deserve a movie?

Phoenix may not have had a lot to work with, but I just wish he gave us a little more. 

Kirby, however, was great. This was her first large role, and I think she owned it. Her portrayal of the wife of someone in power was amazing, especially given the time period. The emotions and body language she used while playing Josephine were remarkable. 

The costume design for this film was incredible, too. The movie spans from the late 1790s and into the early 1800s, and the clothes were stunning and very historically accurate. Napoleon’s outfits were correct right down to the boots and buttons, earning high praise from me.

It was evident that the high budget was spent primarily on the costuming and the battle scenes. These scenes were arguably the best and most interesting points of the movie. I physically cringed during them, and if you know me, that definitely means it was well done. 

While they might not have been completely historically accurate, no movie ever really is anymore. Dramatic flair must be included to entertain the audience, and that’s just how it works.

The cinematography, done by Dariusz Wolski of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series and “Crimson Tide,” was good in providing a great deal of scale in regards to its “epicness.” The blue tint of color each scene had gave it that vintage, melancholy feel. It does not do anything particularly new or exciting, but aided in the spectacle nonetheless.

Will I rewatch this movie? Probably. Would I go out of my way to? No. With its bland script and lack of depth, this film was just ordinary — not bad, but not necessarily great.


3/5 Stars


Featured photo courtesy of @napoleonmovie, Instagram