NO SPOILERS AHEAD
One may find themselves in a bitter state of disappointment should they venture to the theatres to see Ridley Scott’s latest big-screen action film, “Napoleon”. Disappointment, that is, if they were to expect a historically accurate telling of the French Emperor’s timeline.
Others will enjoy the “character study” aspect, using plot devices to explain interminable elements, with shortcuts to reveal — as well as a motion picture could — the complexities of interplay between charismatic leaders and their continually aversive bureaucracies. This gives us 2 aspects of inaccuracy; time-cutting and major FUBUs. One time-cutting flaw is forgivable; Napoleon married Marie Louise, who later provided progeny, nearly a full year after divorcing Josephine. Here, these are abutting events. Flawed, but forgivable.
Less forgivable is the main event at the beginning, the beheading of Marie Antoinette. It is improbable she walked, unsecured and unguided by troops, to the guillotine. Even worse is the presence of Napoleon Bonaparte, given he was 700km South on the French Riviera, at Toulon. There are a few more howlers, of course. This IS Hollywood. Yet rather than begrudgingly creating a list, I want to refer the reader to 2 links which do a superior job of it.
These OCC exceptions are attendant balm to the movie as movie. Though my knowledge of Napoleon (several books, term paper several lustrums ago) is not comprehensive, it is unlikely in person he was what Scott directs and Joaquin Phoenix portrays; doltish, uninspiring and sometimes introverted. In contrast with the realities of the man who became an Emperor, these contrasting aspects come off as outright confusing. Yet the script by David Scarpa and stylistic direction move the film along at an engaging pace, only barely reaching ennui. Often visually stunning, the negative aspects — thank my anal retentiveness — are outweighed. Think the Book of the Dead, where a feather and a heart balance a beam so the visitor to the Underworld can pass unobstructed to the Afterlife. This film will have a weighty afterlife in our common consciousness, with sayings bound to become oft-repeated, meme-bait in the making.
To once again touch upon the historical aspects, I will leave you with these two ultimately overruled negative critiques: 1) The cannonballing of the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza never happened; and 2) the real characters portrayed spoke little to no English. Perhaps we are to be thankful these are the worst guttings in an otherwise worthy semi-biographical production.