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Napoleon

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim
and Rupert Everett
Directed by Ridley Scott
Rated R

Available to rent or buy
on Apple TV and AmazonPrimeVideo

First Impression: “Napoleon” is a big budget epic from master director Ridley Scott that can at times soar to great heights, but mostly feels hollow in giving you the whole picture of one of the most intriguing characters in all of history—Napoleon Bonaparte.


Well, when Ridley Scott took on the project of bringing the life of Napoleon Bonaparte to the big screen he must have felt uniquely qualified, as he is the director that has brought us some of the most iconic and exhilarating action and adventure epics of the last half century. If you have enjoyed such films as “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” and “The Martian” you have Ridley Scott to thank. He’s a director who’s not afraid to take big swings and he usually knocks it out of the park with box office blowouts like “Alien” to Oscar-winning triumphs like “Gladiator.”


But sadly, with “Napoleon” he mostly falls flat. I’m not saying it’s a complete dud of a film, but in my opinion a man like Napoleon and the era he lived in—The French Revolution—is so rich in details and intrigue that I think a 10-episode limited series would have done it justice. When you are dealing with the French Revolution, which noted historians have called “the Revolution of all revolutions,” that’s a lot of details and nuance to take in, and simply to dilute the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s role in it to a two-and-a-half-hour film simply isn’t going to get it done.


Although I was disappointed with the overall film, I enjoyed performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby as Napoleon and his beloved wife Josephine. The relationship between the two characters is really the strong point of the movie. Whenever they are on screen together there is tons of chemistry and intrigue. Phoenix plays Napoleon as a confident underachiever, always with something to prove, begging his adversaries to underestimate him because it just makes his victories that much sweeter.

Kirby’s Josephine plays the perfect counterpart to Phoenix’s Napoleon—cunning and elusive—she knows how to play a man like Napoleon. Eventually she ends up controlling him as he becomes more and more obsessed with her in their relationship. This obsession plays out in the most memorable part of the film, where Napoleon literally abandons his post in Egypt because one of his army confidantes reveals that Josephine is having an affair with another high-ranking military official.


What plays out next shows exactly how one-sided their relationship is. Napoleon is angry for five minutes but ultimately forgives her and wants to go on as if nothing has happened. So, you can see that when the relationship dynamic between the two is the high point of the film, and not the battles or the history—something isn’t right. The film is serviceable and is in no way Ridley Scott’s weakest picture, but it’s somewhere in the middle. It could be forgotten as a mediocre attempt to tell the story of a larger-than-life character in a strange and troubled time in history.


Final Verdict: 2 out of 5 Stars

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