On Screen: “Napoleon”


Napoleon Bonaparte famously once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” … but someone should have interfered with Ridley Scott’s casting Joaquin Phoenix as the French Emperor and Vanessa Kirby as Josephine.

Now playing in theaters, big-budgeted “Napoleon” is an epic bore.

Because of his brilliant military strategy — from 1798 to 1815 — the “Corsican thug” scored victories at the Battle of the Pyramids, Battle of Marengo, Battle of Trafalgar, Battle of Austerlitz, Battle of Jena-Auerstadt, Battle of Rolica, Battle of Borodino, and Battle of Ligny, having seized power, crowning himself Emperor in the chaos that occurred after the French Revolution.

In the boudoir, however, diminutive Napoleon was more of a cuckold than a conqueror, since his wife Josephine had many lovers.

Working from David Scarpa’s history-heavy script, director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) spends 2 hours, 38 minutes alternating between brutality on the battlefield and violence in the bedroom, succeeding more in the former than the latter — since he used 11 cameras, filming simultaneously for the frontline carnage.

In the titular role, Joaquin Phoenix is almost as quirky and creepy as he was as Arthur Fleck in “Joker.” He whines, sneers and — almost comically — habitually covers his ears after ordering the canons to fire. What he lacks is charisma.

As supposedly sexually insatiable Josephine, Vanessa Kirby, despite her alluring décolletage, lacks the requisite sensuality.

Eventually, as history tells us, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo by an Anglo-Allied Army under the Duke of Wellington (Rupert Everett) with Prussian reinforcements. He was exiled to the islands of Elba, then St. Helena.

Too bad nothing is mentioned about the European effects of the secular Napoleonic Code which eliminated traditional noble and clerical privileges and ignited changes to civil administration and law.

FYI: Two classic films — both called “Napoleon” — were made by Abel Gance (1927) and Sacha Guitry (1955). Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a film about Napoleon with Jack Nicholson and Audrey Hepburn after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but that never came to pass. And eventually Apple TV+ will stream Ridley Scott’s director’s cut which runs four hours.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Napoleon” is a foggy 4 — what a Waterloo-ser!


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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