The Courier

The student news site of The Delbarton School

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Napoleon: A Cinematic Misfire 


Throughout 2023, the film industry has been an absolute hit for movie enthusiasts across various age groups. From the highly anticipated summer blockbuster Barbie to the captivating film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the year has been a showcase of a few cinematic masterpieces.

After the immense success of the historical film Oppenheimer, many people started to get over excited for the Napoleon movie when trailers first started to come out. Directed by Ridley Scott, the creative filmmaker behind the Gladiator, expectations soared for Napoleon. Building on the success of Oppenheimer‘s portrayal of historical events, many envisioned Napoleon to be another cinematic masterpiece. After three weeks out in theaters, Napoleon has a 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes while only having a 66% rating on Google, which is disappointing compared to what was expected. 

The figure of Napoleon is often seen as one of the most interesting figures in all of history. Napoleon is known to have one of the most incredible rises to power, from being born on a small island off the coast of Italy, to literally crowning himself the king of France in 1804. However, the first flaw of the movie is that it does not go in depth into Napoleon’s rise to power as many hoped, and the film ignores many of the moments in Napoleon’s career that turned a nobody into a legend.

Walking into the theater many expected the movie to be focused on Napoleon and his rise to power as a strategic genius, however, most of the movie focuses his relationship with his wife, Joshephine. Throughout the movie, the audience doesn’t seem to have the chance to grasp Napoleon’s charisma and brilliance, which influenced tens of thousands of men to go into battle and throw themselves into the slaughter. On a positive note, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the role of Napoleon, did an amazing job in portraying Napoleon’s weirdness, hubris, and intense attention to detail, while also the sets, costumes and use of practical effects and CGI were great.   

Being a fan of movies that highlight historical events like this, I had extremely high expectations and thought that I was going to see Napoleon lead his men into battle in ones such as Borodino, Auzsertliz, and Waterloo. I was disappointed that this constituted only a fraction of the movie because the cinematography was amazing during these scenes. I wish that Ridley Scott had decided to focus more on Napoleon’s mastermind military strategies and his ability to rally up his troops in battles, rather than his romantic relationship with Josephine. There were many awkward moments throughout the movie that almost felt unnecessary.

I understand that it’s almost impossible to fit 20 years of Napoleon’s life into a 2 hour and 45 minute run-time, but I believe that this movie would have been a lot better if it focused more on Napoleon on the battlefield and his rise to power. There were too many long, drawn-out dramatic scenes throughout the movie, and it felt like Scott was trying to pack in a lot of important information, such as his battles, in a little amount of time remaining after the love scenes.

Finally, I was very disappointed that Ridley Scott did not focus on one of the most important turning points in Napoleon’s career, which was his invasion of Russia in 1812. The invasion of Russia was summed up in about 5 minutes and does not go into significant detail during the Battle of Borodino and his time in Moscow.  Soctt could have gone more into detail about the “scorched earth” tactics that the Russians used to slowly kill the French soldiers and the “General Winter” when the Russian winter slowly killed the French soldiers, resulting in Napoleon returning with only 40,000 out of his original 600,000 soldiers.  

Overall, I would give the Napoleon movie a solid 5.5/10, much lower than I was hoping I would give after I first saw the trailer. 

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