‘Napoleon’ review: Ridley Scott swings historical epic – but is it a hit? – LSB

Ridley Scott is on an exciting tear, transforming historical moments of love and crime into films as bold as they are polarizing. The last duel dusts off a 14th-century rape case, revealing its hero and villains through three perspectives as a dynamic—and heartbreakingly funny—battle of the sexes. the next, House of Gucci interrogates a murder plot from the point of view of a loving wife turned self-confident widow. And now, Napoleon explores the life of the French emperor, mainly through his military victories and stormy relationship with his beloved Josephine de Beauharnais.

However, where I enjoyed the boldness of the display in the The last duel and House of Gucciof Scott Napoleon leave me cold

Napoleon feels more like a statement than a revelation.

Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte in

Credit: Apple Original Films

If you don’t know the story of Napoleon Bonaparte beyond the pop culture standards of his short stature, big ego and ABBA-acclaimed surrender at Waterloo, Scott won’t be much help. NapoleonThe screenplay, written by David Scarpa, has a choppy pace, jumping from highlights and low lights with the casualness of a history professor chattering sleepily among his colleagues. Italic title cards are meant to add context with who, where, and what, but do so with a shrug, as if they’re helpful reminders rather than introductions.

The dialogue provided (mainly through mumbling or a haughty British accent) allows the audience to understand the essence of the political twists and turns, while Scott’s graphic and extensive battle scenes amply illustrate Napoleon’s skill as a strategist. However, while casual viewers can understand the broad strokes of this portrait, Napoleon doesn’t offer enough definition to keep you emotionally invested.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Napoleon as a clown.

Joaquin Phoenix and Rupert Everett c

Credit: Apple Original Films

Scott departs from the portrayal of Bonaparte as a short, rotund and erratic jester seen in films such as Time bandits or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. While Phoenix appears shorter than the others – including Vanessa Kirby’s Josephine – the slight low angle of his Napoleon lends an air of grandeur. Still, there is an admitted absurdity when the emperor’s arrogance collides with his insecurity.

While Phoenix can cut a stern figure on the battlefield – reminiscent of his scowling Roman emperor in Scott Gladiator — he can also make a fool of himself, running from politicians and falling down stairs as he proclaims himself the one true ruler of France. Phoenix deftly overcomes this paradox, defiantly responding to Josephine calling Napoleon fat by strangely proclaiming, “Fate wanted me to be here. Fate wanted me to have that lamb chop!”

As he did with Bo is afraid, Phoenix dives into the ridiculous aspects of this character without ego. But while Beau was an ardent coward, Napoleon has a great sense of self that prevents him from seeing his own folly. This is true in war and romance. The final act of the film, where he loses in both, could be seen as tragic if only we cared.

Scott seems to take the audience’s connection to this historical figure for granted. Napoleon is essentially foisted on us, as if his skill in military strategy alone is reason enough to root for him. Phoenix’s performance is engaging, but lacks the surprise of Matt Damon as an obnoxious ruffian or the thrill of Lady Gaga as a sultry social climber. And while Scott’s previous films were filled with a tantalizing collection of curious characters, Napoleon views his supporting players as toy soldiers. They come and go with slight variations—an irritating remark here, a sneer there, a furious outburst or a withering look. But few leave their mark on the narrative of Napoleon, except Josephine. But she is a curiosity of another kind.

Vanessa Kirby is elegant and enigmatic as Josephine.

Vanessa Kirby as Josephine c

Credit: Apple Original Films

Inducted into rags, released from prison with the end of the Reign of Terror, this former aristocrat initially seems to view Napoleon as a strategic cover protecting her and her children from the fickle French public. His attempts at flirting are almost as comical as the repeated scenes of their fornication. In them, he pounces on her like a rabid dog while she looks bored, bordering on impatient.

During their relationship, a wry smile might flash across her face or a sharp giggle escape her lips. But even as she begins to respond to his many romantic love letters with letters of her own, it’s hard to tell what’s sincere and which is a survival strategy. As Napoleon’s lover, she has wealth, status and a home away from the wars he is waging. But – their horrific sex life aside – does she have feelings for him?

Kirby’s performance, peppered with wry smiles and cold stares, refuses to give the audience an easy answer. Perhaps this is meant to reflect how Napoleon sees her, a maddeningly fickle but seductive woman. However, this dance becomes tedious for two hours and 38 minutes. What is certain is that Napoleon loves her, but he is also a fool. And in this perhaps he might be understood—who among us has not been a fool for love? But mostly he just scrapes.

Oscillating between brooding, snarling, and inappropriate hilarity, Phoenix’s Napoleon feels like a chore. Perhaps this is the point, Scott’s means of offering a critique of the kind of blokes who rise to power through sheer force of will and atrocious social skills. But that doesn’t make such a lecture fun.

Ridley Scott aims high, but falls short Napoleon.

Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte and Vanessa Kirby as Josephine in Ridley Scott's film "Napoleon."

Credit: Apple Original Films

Despite his emotional mistake, Napoleon is striking in other respects as well. Scott’s battle scenes are huge, featuring cannons, horses and hordes of soldiers. Yet they are easy to follow and brutal in a way that requires modern audiences to recognize the horror of these epic historical conflicts.

Within these scenes of war, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski exhibits impressive pictures. The depth of field stretches for miles, with beige hills or light gray fortresses towering in the distance, suggesting that conquest is at hand. Meanwhile, in the foreground are Napoleon and his soldiers, in stark contrast to the background of their dark uniforms of crimson and navy, highlighted by glittering gold accents. Even in a quiet coronation scene that turns the darkness back to highlight a time of joy, such attention to detail makes those moments feel profound.

Spanning decades, wars and a host of historical figures, Napoleon it is undoubtedly an ambitious film. But all the time Scott feels disappointed in us. Perhaps irritated by the mixed reception of his last two historical plays, he seems to have lost patience with the audience. It will no longer enthusiastically unfold its interest in the subject or gift us with characters that are chaotically compelling. Instead, here is an anxious egomaniac and his enigmatic obsession. See them as unknowable and inevitable…or not.

In the end, Napoleon is brave but also unsatisfying.

Napoleon hits theaters November 22.

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