Jack Simon
Courtesy photo

I believe there should be a law that when provoked by human indecency I, or any good Samaritan, should be allowed to plunk the offender with a 77-mile-per-hour fastball to the side.

Seattle has the law of mutual combat still in effect from its brawling lumberjack days, and I believe this to be a modern compromise for the rest of our nation. Examples of such infractions are henceforth listed but are not limited to: not racking your skis, ignoring people on public transit who need your seat more than you, and one for the middle-aged pedestrian who saw the excited girls who had come to the movies after school to “see the Hunger Games, please” and butted in to say “of course you are” as he rolled his eyes.

Kids don’t go to the movies anymore because of gatekeeping boomers. Maybe a little because of TikTok, but that is more due to being a safe place where nobody reprimands them for what they should be watching. Let kids have fun and the teenagers see the movies that make them happy.

Anyway never mind the bullocks; here’s “Napoleon.”

I haven’t been this undecided on a movie in a while. I have a long list of notes that range from stark praise to infuriated befuddlement. The fact that it is taking me this long to ponder is noteworthy, but I don’t know if that makes the movie extraordinary. We see a film trying to decipher the duality of mankind, our greatest mystery.

Using one of history’s most power-hungry characters, we see this battle taking stage on a global scale as Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) grapples with intense hubris and a humbling insecurity. The premise is basic: “Who amongst us hasn’t been a sucker for beauty?” It is a trope that has been trodded out numerous times in all types of art to humanize a grandiose figure. It’s an easy thing we can all relate to; that very night, I was nervous to take my phone off airplane mode after the film because I wasn’t sure if the girl I had been infatuated with since last winter had texted me back. We all have our shortcomings after all.

Then, at times, the film rises above these cliché trapping to achieve a status that could only be described as epic. The battle scenes are captivating, removing me from my surroundings and placing the viewer inside the combat where the war of one man’s uncapped ambition rages on. It is here the best work is done, with Napoleon far apart from antagonist and wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). The absence from each others’ lives stretches tensions taut. Napoleon’s desperate desire to return home and his belief that if he were to return home with anything but glorious victory he would be unworthy of love and at odds with each other. As an audience member, that romantic inkling in your heart yearns for them to be back together. But then they reunite to share the screen,, and the film skids to an abrupt splatter.

So scattered in direction are the exposition and exploratory moments that, at times, back-to-back scenes explicitly contradict one another. It could be argued this is a directorial decision to display the internal struggle between characters, but that’s bunk when it is executed so poorly. When this conflicting duality is presented together in such rapid succession, Kirby and Phoenix fail as they seem unsure of how to handle the juxtaposition. The pair mill around with inconsistent chemistry, uncertain of how to plod through the smushed script that is creating such a displaced pace. They seem lost during the second act, trying to make character decisions in an under-directed mess.

The frustration is that there was a great movie to be had here, but too much dithering got in the way. Perhaps afraid to duplicate their last team-up “Gladiator,” both Scott and Phoenix run away from the obvious parallels that are there. In Scott’s case, a period piece ripe with exciting action, and in Phoenix’s, an opportunity to play a legendary tyrant with bewildering eccentricities. They combine to deliver efforts that are somehow both overwrought and under-explained.

Personal speculation leads me to believe that during the editing process, Scott realized he had made two movies. One gruesome and wonderfully explicit in all manners, and the other a neurotic romance that empowered a relentless lunatic. He chose the latter, and it was the wrong choice.

Critic Score: 6.9/10

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