Napoleon Parent Guide
Napoleon Bonaparte may have struck fear into the heart of Europe, but this film fails to inspire much emotion.
Parent Movie Review
Once a scrappy Corsican artillery officer, Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) has gained unimaginable power. After putting down a Royalist uprising in Paris with the help of a few cannon and some cannister shot, Napoleon finds himself involved in French politics at the highest levels – a position that affords him great opportunity and terrible risk. He’s also found happiness in a relationship with Josephine Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby), but his constant military travel puts great strain on their marriage. The future of France is in his hands – he only has to hold on to it, but that means complete dedication, not only to his military campaigns, but to the demands of a nation.
Even by the standards of historical figures, Napoleon is a complex, multi-faceted man. The challenge for anyone trying to make a film from his sprawling life is finding a coherent story with a self-contained arc; something that will show an audience a new side to his personality, or provide some clarity into the major events of his life. The options are extensive – a focus on his military career, his political choices, his dramatic relationship with Josephine, his early life, or his exile– each of which contains more than enough material for several films. Instead, the film attempts to conquer all of these elements, and much like its titular hero, overreaches and ultimately fails.
Apart from structural overambition, Joaquin Phoenix is the movie’s biggest problem. He’s the only major player with an American accent, which is already distracting, and he’s entirely too old to play Napoleon for most of his career. At 49, Phoenix is only two years younger than Napoleon was when he died on Saint Helena, and yet here he is, playing him at 24. If nothing else, he’s very clearly significantly older than Vanessa Kirby who, as Josephine, ought to be six years older than he is. It just doesn’t sell.
As you might expect, the life of a French emperor comes with a good deal of violence and no small amount of sex. When Napoleon isn’t busy slaughtering the armies of Europe to extend French power, he’s busily (and futilely) trying to impregnate Joesphine at home – and the depiction of the first is much more graphic than the second. People are frequently seen brutally killed, shot, stabbed, blown up, struck with artillery, and burned. (The joys of the Coalition Wars, in bloody detail.) The sex, while frequent, does not include any nudity, but there’s more than enough partially-clothed thrusting to make this an unpleasant family viewing experience.
Much as I’d enjoy it, I’m not going to drag you down into a historical dissection of every detail of the film – except to note that it is far from comprehensive in its portrayal of the period – because, frankly, that’s not really the point. Napoleon is set up as a biopic, with a singular focus on Napoleon, and a far more effective condemnation of the movie than the diverting minutiae of history is the fact that I don’t have any better understanding of the man than I did before I spent nearly three hours watching him. The film is competently made, beautifully shot, and completely soulless. Chalk it up as another victory for the British, I suppose.Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Ludivine Sagnier. Running time: 158 minutes. Theatrical release November 22, 2023. Updated November 21, 2023
Watch the trailer for Napoleon
Rating & Content Info
Why is Napoleon rated R? Napoleon is rated R by the MPAA for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and brief language.
Violence: Men and women, both civilian and military, are violently killed with firearms, bayonets, and artillery pieces. These deaths are graphic, and include mutilation and loss of limb. A man sticks his finger into a gunshot wound, increasing the pain of the injured man. Corpses are seen lashed to trees. The body of an infant is briefly seen. A woman is beheaded and her severed head is help up by the hair. A man strikes his wife’s face. A man tries to kill himself, resulting in bloody injury detail.
Sexual Content: Adult characters are frequently seen having sex, occasionally of the adulterous variety. There is brief buttock nudity.
Profanity: There are four sexual expletives, one scatological curse word, and rare uses of mild curses and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are briefly seen smoking tobacco and consuming alcohol in social settings.
Page last updated November 21, 2023