Napoleon Movie Review: Nowadays I find myself to be more excited by the prospect of a new Ridley Scott press tour rather than a Ridley Scott film itself. The reason behind that is quite simple: you know a press tour with him will deliver some of the most passive-aggressively hilarious quotes you will ever see, while a modern-day Scott film has a 50/50 chance of capturing the filmmaker’s classic spirit. In that regard, I think Napoleon's press tour was his greatest to date, which inadvertently made me eager for the movie as well. The ingredients for an amazing time are there with Joaquin Phoenix playing the lead and Scott directing a historical epic; and you can bet that the filmmaker takes full advantage of them. Napoleon: Joaquin Phoenix Transforms into Napoleon Bonaparte in Riveting Trailer for Ridley Scott's Epic (Watch Video).

Napoleon focuses on the rise and fall of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix), while also taking a look at the relationship he has with his wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). Its structure is quite simple where it focuses on six major battles that Napoleon fought out of the 81 he partook in, and the film unpacks like a series of moments that try to capture the greatest hits of this historical figure.

A Still From Napoleon (Photo Credits: Apple Original Films)

What Napoleon really benefits from is Scott’s swift direction. Given how brilliantly the set design captures the essence of 18th-century France, when aristocrats would rule supreme and the streets would appear to be a sloppy mess, Napoleon might be his biggest movie to date. The brilliant on-screen framing demonstrates the extent the filmmaker will go to ensure that everything has a tangible feel, and the stunning display shows that Scott hasn't lost his touch when it comes to handling big-budget spectacle.

Amidst all that is Phoenix’s Napoleon, who plays the French emperor like a petulant and sex-crazed megalomaniac that can’t see beyond the glories of France. Phoenix has made a career out of playing damaged men with a desire of being more, and Bonaparte fits perfectly into that portfolio with his performance being a highlight. To compliment him is also the beautiful Vanessa Kirby, who brings a sensual nature to Josephine, and it's here where the heart of the film lies.

Watch the Trailer for Napoleon:

Napoleon and Josephine’s relationship forms the crux of the film with a certain toxicity to it that almost goes to comical lengths. Many parts of the film are just outright and surprisingly funny with Phoenix and Kirby having great comedic timing here. While Bonaparte is out fighting wars, Josephine is back home taking new lovers which fuels a sense of insecurity within the French legend. That domestic battle between them makes for some great drama that highlights for a conflict within our lead which he isn’t fully equipped fighting for, and is also where most of David Scarpa’s script shines. However, this also causes for the screenplay to forget some of the more important parts of the French emperor’s life.

Due to Napoleon focusing so much on his domestic life, the film almost ignores to highlight his early years and the “strategist” side of him that he is known for. It’s quite noticeable that parts here have been cut out to accommodate a two-and-a-half-hours runtime, and it unfortunately does make for Napoleon to seem a bit lacking. It’s like a series of events showcasing how the emperor did go on to lose everything he had, but you never feel the political aspect of it because of just how unimportant they feel in the context of the film.

A Still From Napoleon (Photo Credits: Apple Original Films)

It recreates six of his major battles, and there is a “eighth-grade history lecture” vibe that does come across, but what Scott does so great is that he heightens those sequences with a jaw-dropping grandiose. Packed with insane visuals, it’s on the battlefield where the gritty nature of the film takes over. These battles are bloody and grimy, but I still wished to see that strategist aspect of Napoleon more which would have made these scenes have an even a more lasting impact. That’s not to take away the impressive work done by the team here though, because these are some of the most entertaining sequences of the year. Napoleon Review: Ridley Scott’s Historical Film, Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, Gets Mixed Response From Critics.

On a technical level, there were no expenses spared on Napoleon

A Still From Napoleon (Photo Credits: Apple Original Films)

What Napoleon really benefits from is Scott’s swift direction. Given how brilliantly the set design captures the essence of 18th-century France, when aristocrats would rule supreme and the streets would appear to be a sloppy mess, Napoleon might be his biggest movie to date. The brilliant on-screen framing demonstrates the extent the filmmaker will go to ensure that everything has a tangible feel, and the stunning display shows that Scott hasn't lost his touch when it comes to handling big-budget spectacle.

Amidst all that is Phoenix’s Napoleon, who plays the French emperor like a petulant and sex-crazed megalomaniac that can’t see beyond the glories of France. Phoenix has made a career out of playing damaged men with a desire of being more, and Bonaparte fits perfectly into that portfolio with his performance being a highlight. To compliment him is also the beautiful Vanessa Kirby, who brings a sensual nature to Josephine, and it's here where the heart of the film lies.

Watch the Trailer for Napoleon:

Napoleon and Josephine’s relationship forms the crux of the film with a certain toxicity to it that almost goes to comical lengths. Many parts of the film are just outright and surprisingly funny with Phoenix and Kirby having great comedic timing here. While Bonaparte is out fighting wars, Josephine is back home taking new lovers which fuels a sense of insecurity within the French legend. That domestic battle between them makes for some great drama that highlights for a conflict within our lead which he isn’t fully equipped fighting for, and is also where most of David Scarpa’s script shines. However, this also causes for the screenplay to forget some of the more important parts of the French emperor’s life.

Due to Napoleon focusing so much on his domestic life, the film almost ignores to highlight his early years and the “strategist” side of him that he is known for. It’s quite noticeable that parts here have been cut out to accommodate a two-and-a-half-hours runtime, and it unfortunately does make for Napoleon to seem a bit lacking. It’s like a series of events showcasing how the emperor did go on to lose everything he had, but you never feel the political aspect of it because of just how unimportant they feel in the context of the film.

A Still From Napoleon (Photo Credits: Apple Original Films)

It recreates six of his major battles, and there is a “eighth-grade history lecture” vibe that does come across, but what Scott does so great is that he heightens those sequences with a jaw-dropping grandiose. Packed with insane visuals, it’s on the battlefield where the gritty nature of the film takes over. These battles are bloody and grimy, but I still wished to see that strategist aspect of Napoleon more which would have made these scenes have an even a more lasting impact. That’s not to take away the impressive work done by the team here though, because these are some of the most entertaining sequences of the year. Napoleon Review: Ridley Scott’s Historical Film, Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, Gets Mixed Response From Critics.

On a technical level, there were no expenses spared on Napoleon and the $200 million budget is utilised to its fullest. It’s honestly commendable to see that Apple is willing to dish out so much on films like these, considering they aren’t exactly mainstream.

Final Thoughts

Napoleon is a grandiose affair that highly benefits from the swift direction of Ridley Scott. Boasting some impressive performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, it’s an entertaining 150 minutes that does feel tightly squeezed in, but nevertheless provides for one of the year’s more intriguing watches. Here is hoping that Scott’s four-hour cut does see the light of day in the future, because the film is just at the tip of greatness with a few elements holding it back. Napoleon releases in theatres on November 24, 2023.

Rating:3.5

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Nov 24, 2023 11:00 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).