Napoleon movie review

Napoleon was the weirdest historical film I’ve ever seen

By Olivia Richman

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Nov 24, 2023

Reading time: 2 min

I went into my viewing of Napoleon blind, expecting a war-focused epic that gave more insight into Napoleon Bonaparte’s life during his time as a military general and emperor. But I wasn’t expecting how hilarious and bizarre this fever dream of a film would be.

Ridley Scott spent $200 million to create Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix, which was being advertised as an “action epic.” The trailers showed intense and sprawling war scenes as well as emotionally charged moments between Napoleon and his wife, Josephine. But watching the film, I was personally pleasantly surprised at how obscure and oddly uncomfortable the movie was.

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First, let me say that I have seen the reviews. Many are calling this film historically inaccurate and are frustrated with how it jumps from one event to another like a disjointed history book. Some called it boring. Others felt it didn’t dive deep enough into Napoleon’s psyche or try to figure out exactly why he was the way he was.

But I say those critics are missing the point completely. Napoleon was one of the most hilarious, confusing, and often uneasy experiences I’ve had in theaters over a movie that is disguised as serious. But can you really say this movie is a true severe and somber look at Napoleon when we are watching this weird man beg his wife for sex by stomping his foot, throwing food at people he disagrees with at a fancy dinner, or yelling at another war general that they are not better than him for having boats?

I feel like Scott’s version of Napoleon was not made to really be taken all that seriously, and the people who are crying about historical inaccuracy are not enjoying the film for what it actually is.

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Just like in Beau is Afraid, Phoenix is an amazing actor who perfectly captures neuroticism in a mesmerizing way, making Napoleon’s need for approval fascinating. Yes, we didn’t hear about Napoleon’s childhood or see what exactly made him have these weird complexes and behaviors, but can you really deny the hilarity of moments like when he screams out, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL ME!” after another man makes a long-winded speech about the mayhem inside of the town hall?

Are you really going to be mad at Scott for adding over-the-top scenes like blasting off the top of a pyramid in Egypt? Does it matter if that truly happened? Just read a history book if you want to know the exact complexities of Napoleon’s life and his military conquests. There are probably plenty of movies and documentaries discussing his battle tactics.

But are there any that show him whimpering “mommy” and then snorting at his wife as he crawls underneath a table to bang her in front of his guards? Well, now there is, thanks to Ridley Scott.

So stop taking things so seriously and just enjoy the obscure humor of this strange and uncomfortable look at Napoleon’s toxic relationship with Josephine and his odd, dead-eyed stare during every other scene until he suddenly screams something super unexpectedly chaotic.