…but it doesn’t really come together. I wouldn’t call it a bore or a bust, but it is a shortfaller, certainly in terms of what most of us might expect from a director as skilled and seasoned as Ridley Scott, who knows from battle scenes and 18th Century cultures and atmospheres. I’ll always be a huge fan of 1977’s The Duellists (Scott’s debut effort) and I guess I figured…aagghh, stop beating around the bush and spit it out.
Napoleon isn’t an outright failure but it certainly disappoints. It huffs and puffs but never really grabs hold or pays off, and a big part of the problem is that Joaquin Phoenix’s titular performance is too smug and sullen and oddball-glum. We’re looking at a clearly older guy (the nearly 50-year-old Phoenix is looking more than a bit lined and jowly) and he’s mumble-playing a famous fellow in his 30s and 40s, and it’s like “what’s going on here?” He’s playing one of the greatest genius generals in history like a teenager on mescaline, and it just feels off. Marlon Brando’s Napoleon in Desiree (‘54) was much, much better.
All I can tell you is that the general mood on the sidewalk outside the DGA theatre after the film ended was morose and uncertain. I mostly hemmed and hawed. One guy said he was flat-out bored during most of it. A friend suggested that the title of my review should be “sacre blows” but it’s not as bad as all that. It’s more of a scattershot thing. Yes, the battle scenes are definitely decent — the best are the depictions of the battles of Austerlitz and Waterloo. But even these felt a little so-what and “what’s the point again?”.
Text sent to a friend: “I don’t think it works all that well. Spotty. In and out. Moody and muttering Joaquin…’muh-muh-mum-mum-mum’…my general reaction was one of mild intrigue but with gradually diminishing returns, although Scott does give his all to the Battie of Waterloo. Subtitles will help when it starts streaming as I understood maybe a third of Vanessa Kirby’s dialogue, IF THAT. The colors are all drab grays and subdued greens and downish blues. My soul felt drab and gray.”
I didn’t nod out but I wasn’t riveted. Am I allowed to say I was vagueiy bored? No, that’s not fair — I was semi-engaged and stayed with it and kept hoping for more. But my mind was certainly wandering and somewhere around the one-hour mark I said to myself, “Face it, this isn’t doing the thing or drilling down…not really.”
Joaquin is such an oddball space-cadet Napoleon…impassive, “I’m not sure what to do so I’ll just sulk”…residing on his own stoner planet. And he really is too old.