Napoleon (2023)
November 27, 2023 7:19 PM - Subscribe

An epic that details the checkered rise and fall of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his wife, Josephine.
posted by cozenedindigo (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You think you're so great because you have boats!
posted by chrchr at 11:23 PM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]

I was prepared for this movie to be disappointing, but I'm afraid it's worse than even my low expectations have imagined. I haven't seen it yet, but my friends who are interested in the French Revolution and Napoleonic periods (many who are authors and historians themselves) have seen it, and they've hated it. They've told me it's not only inaccurate, sexist and reactionary, but it's boring. Also, who the hell is this movie for? Nobody knows.

Sarah Hammell, author of Joachim Murat: A Portrait in Letters, had this to say. Noted author Simon Scarrow was equally disgusted in his review. Here's a couple other impressions as well. Historian Andrew Roberts points out how tired the proto-Hitler angle is, while Mick LaSalle says the movie is just pointless and badly cast.

I'll see this movie eventually-- I promised a friend I would see it with her-- but I am not looking forward to it.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:36 AM on November 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

My first reaction on hearing they cast Joaquin Phoenix was WTF ? You need a young guy to play Napoleon. I would have picked Timothée Chalamet.
posted by Pendragon at 3:04 AM on November 28, 2023

My first reaction on hearing they cast Joaquin Phoenix was WTF ? You need a young guy to play Napoleon.

Ridley Scott was thinking of how Phoenix had been when he was working with him on Gladiator. In this interview he says he was also impressed by Phoenix's work on Joker, but I have a hunch he was also thinking of 20-years-ago Phoenix from Gladiator more than anything else.

I would have picked Timothée Chalamet.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on November 28, 2023

There’s got to be a rich vein of pop-psychological commentary on why control-freak male directors (Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Abel Gance) go apeshit over Napoleon. Maybe it’s just so much low-hanging fruit though.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

I agree that Phoenix's age is a huge problem with the casting. Phoenix is 49. Kirby is 35. The historical Napoleon died at 51, and Josephine was six years older than him. She was 46 when they divorced, so it had not been some great puzzle to anyone that she wasn't producing heirs. Scott pitches the movie as an exploration of their relationship, and for that age difference not to show up on screen steals some of that potential intrigue.

But the movie is just weird and bad in other ways too. It felt like watching a History Channel documentary with lots of historical reenactment scenes with the commentary segments removed. Instead, every few scenes Joseph Bonneparte clunkily shows up to deliver exposition. There's never a sense of anything being at stake. There's a lot of build up to the divorce, but then it doesn't seem like it has any consequences. It's a brisk two and a half hours long but feels way too short for what it's trying to do, which is not to say that I want it to be longer!
posted by chrchr at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

How could they screw up this story?? It's got everything: war, love, French accents, cool clothes, gunpowder...

Dang, I was hopeful this would be fun and not too serious -- and instead it sounds like it's seriously not-fun. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Waiting for the director's cut. Two reasons: (1) the theater I tried to watch it in was SO LOUD THAT WE THOUGHT WE WOULD SERIOUSLY DIE so we walked out about 20 minutes in, and (2) what we saw of those 20 minutes supported not only the critiques I'd seen—which aligned with those in this thread so far—but also supported the notion that the ~90? minutes Scott cut from this release may contain important connective tissue/character development/pacing considerations which were sacrificed at the Holy Altar of Keep It Under Three Hours.

Mrs. CoB's review of the first 20 minutes was succinct and apt: So narratively clunky that it almost felt like satire.

What I did like of those opening scenes was Phoenix's quiet portrayal of a cocky guy facing the potential of actual, catastrophic failure.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:39 AM on November 29, 2023

"I was prepared for this movie to be disappointing, but I'm afraid it's worse than even my low expectations have imagined. I haven't seen it yet"

Metafilter in a nutshell!

I loved it. It was utterly not at all what I expected, but it was delightful - and very slyly funny. I laughed out loud so much.
posted by kbanas at 6:30 PM on November 29, 2023 [6 favorites]

"Dang, I was hopeful this would be fun and not too serious"

It is absolutely ridiculous and incredibly fun and funny.
posted by kbanas at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

Historians on social media have been up in arms after Ridley Scott's infamous Were you there... well, shut the fuck up then interview. So I was expecting the history to be terrible but it really wasn't that bad. Yes it's not perfect but it's much more like "The Last Duel" than the really ridiculous stuff in Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven. It's accurate in some ways but distorts others.

Napoleon didn't lead cavalry charges, the Battle of Austerlitz had a few drownings in frozen ponds not a giant frozen lake, he witnessed the arrest of Marie Antoinette not her execution, he didn't shoot cannons at the pyramids. But the main events are right and the characters pretty real. The costumes are fantastic and the battles look great. Some of the critics seem to be looking for things to complain about, like the giant flags on the tents and carried everywhere. Yes, inaccurate, but the viewer needs to know which soldiers are in which army.

I was also worried it would over-romanticize Napoleon, but if anything it's the opposite. He's shown as out of shape, bad at sex, and fearful in some scenes. You don't get a sense of his charisma or his command of logistical detail. It's hard to see why so many people follow him when he's depicted as a comic figure at some points.

Good points: I liked the depiction of the complex relationship with Josephine, which didn't shy away from her or his affairs. We'll never know their true feelings, but it seemed plausible and moving.

The costumes are fantastic, the battle scenes immersive, and the film didn't feel as a long as it was, it felt pretty tight and eventful. Overall, glad I watched it, and it definitely benefits from the big screen.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:39 AM on December 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

It seems to be a pretty divisive movie, it got a rave review from Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

I think at least some of the criticism comes from Napoleon fans who don't like the sometimes comic presentation of him as out of shape and bad at sex.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:11 AM on December 8, 2023

I just didn't get why was he a big deal in his society. This movie made so many assumptions on why i should care at all, which is too bad, because the battle scenes had a real good sense of geography and timing, but outside that, it's just truthy rather than truthful. I did appreciate at the commitment to deflate the great man of history framework but it was at the expense of what i opened with, so then what's the significance of him? The truthyness took away a lot of what could be interesting - eg oh haha let's underline the meme that he was short (he wasn't) but not interrogate why it was an utter scandal that some hick from Corsica was having marital ties to one of the grandest imperial kingdoms in Europe which was also why his men love him (i assume??). Which reminds me, this totally betrayed an Anglo mindset about him: there’s no real engagement about his strategic talent (again that class commentary).
posted by cendawanita at 4:39 AM on December 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

I didn't like it. I keep waiting for the funny. I just couldn't care about him. Neither actor or character seemed to care.

The battle set pieces were well staged, but there was almost no connective tissue indicating how they were supposed to show his greatness. Scott and Phoenix just seemed we'd take it as given he was a mercurial charismatic genius and so didn't bother to portray any of that. And I sensed no chemistry between him and Josephine after their meeting.

I'll wait for my movie night friends to tell me what they think of the director's cut.
posted by conscious matter at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2023

So I finally saw Napoleon (2023).

This is possibly the most soporifically boring, relentlessly mediocre so-called "epic" I have had the misfortune to see.

Plotless, pointless, and devoid of anything approaching characterization, the movie can be best described as reenacted scenes from a wikipedia article about Napoleon as written by the Anti-Jacobin.

The whole thing is suffused with British reactionary propaganda circa 1815. The characterizations are all courtesy of the Anti-Jacobin and Rowlandson’s cartoons. Robespierre is a tyrant, Napoleon is a buffoonish loutish thug, and Josephine is a slut. There’s nothing there. There’s no character arcs, no development. Sure, it’s pretty enough, but it's boring. So, so, so boring.

While watching it, I was frequently in a fugue state, floating over my body, wondering, "what is a movie? is this what they're like now? with no drama, no characters, no arcs, no interest?"

In fact, I didn't watch it: I endured it.

Joaquin Phoenix is awful. He is completely miscast on every conceivable level. Mumbling, monotone, and charmless-- I never for one moment thought I was watching Napoleon-- it only felt like Phoenix's cosplay. He and Vanessa Kirby have so little chemistry they might as well be appearing in different movies. They supposedly have this grand obsession/love story, but this amounts to sitting in the same room staring off in boredom. There's the occasional ridiculous sex scene which is always doggie style with clothes on. But for the most part, Josephine just stands in the rain or stares off into the mist.

Oh yeah there's the occasional battle. Eh…

Napoleon’s life was filled with colorful characters like the foppish, extravagant and brave Murat, the bold and foul-mouthed Lannes, the scheming, irrepressible Fouche, and the bubbly nymphomaniac Pauline, none of whom are here, and you have a bunch of interchangeable extras standing around rooms or battlefields. The only character who makes any impression whatsoever is Edouard Philipponnat as Czar Alexander, and I would have rather had a movie starring this actor. Alas, that's not what we got.

A lot of money was spent on this movie. A lot of choices were made. The result was a bland, forgettable dud that immediately fell into a memory hole as soon I departed the theatre.

As Napoleon himself would say, BAH!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:22 PM on December 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

This felt like a parody of an epic. There are some lines in here that are so serious they cannot be taken seriously.
posted by M Edward at 6:15 PM on March 1

Mike Duncan: History According to Ridley Scott.
posted by Pendragon at 12:40 AM on March 8

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