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Napoleon review - Joaquin Phoenix and the visuals are breathtaking, but Ridley Scott also expects a lot from his audience

What actually stands out in Napoleon is the writing away from the war; the game of power and the seduction of it.

Napoleon review - Joaquin Phoenix and the visuals are breathtaking, but Ridley Scott also expects a lot from his audience
Napoleon Review

Last Updated: 01.33 PM, Dec 01, 2023


Napoleon Bonaparte is a man with the ambition to become the king. He strives hard and one day sits on the throne of France. The movie scales his rise to power, the battles he fought, the massive ego he nurtured every minute, and Joséphine de Beauharnais, whom he loved unconditionally and also the one who could break his ego.

Napoleon Review:

Director Ridley Scott, in this phase of life, is busy finding drama in history, and his films have reflected that in the past few years. Be it his last venture 'House Of Gucci,' which lured you into an aesthetic world only to make you realize we are now interrogating a murder. So was 'The Last Duel,' which walked the same syntax, and 'Napoleon' too. There is a king with his ego, and a woman breaking it every time it is about to consume him. But what happens when she is taken away from him? The movie explores the life of one of the most complex figures in history to the point where his ego engulfs him and leaves no crumbs.

Written by David Scarpa, 'Napoleon' has a perfect outline. A king who fought 61 battles and won most of them. A relationship that was so tumultuous that a standalone movie can be made just about it. It is a tailor-made story to translate on the big screen, and in the hands of Ridley Scott, it is, of course, going to bloom more than what's on paper. It leads to an execution scene witnessed by Napoleon, leading to a battle sequel where fire looks so poetic. So technically, the approach to telling the story is more visual than in the idea.

What substantiates that approach more is the presence of an actor who has proven eccentricity is his superpower, and the impromptu nature he brings to the screen is one that not just catches the characters off guard but even the viewer. Just observe Joaquin Phoenix randomly wiping someone’s face or throwing his hat, placing it on someone else’s head; these moments seem like they weren’t written, but their visual appeal is so enhanced. Scott uses all his energy in shaping those battles because, at the end of the day, they introduce us to the fact that this ruler was born with war skills and no one could match him.


But what actually stands out is the writing away from the war. The game of power and the seduction of it. Though he is head over heels in love with Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa), he still holds a certain power over her and borderline owns her. But it is her wit and cleverness that she knows how to counter that very ego of power and win over Napoleon. The complexities of their relationship come out so well in the scenes where they are in their bedroom that you would want to be a fly on the wall.

However, Ridley Scott is expecting a whole lot from his audience; he wants them to be historians who should enter his world having done some homework on his subject. He doesn’t simplify the story in any corner of this entire screenplay. Rather, he just mentions events like you know the French Revolution too well. What adds more to this problem is the editing that seems too abrupt multiple times. The writing also never tries to establish the secondary characters like Scott’s previous film. Even the balance between humour and complexities flickers more than once and you are left confused whether this is a retteling of a tale or a satire. 

Joaquin Phoenix, as usual, puts his best foot forward. While this doesn’t feel like the most authentic portrayal of the French King, Phoenix adds a lot of himself to it. If you detach the name and think of this as an egoistic king who aspires to hold the world by the throat but thinks he is the Messiah, Joaquin delivers a breathtaking act. Vanessa Kirby was born to star in period movies, and she now looks like an odd block in the real world. A performer far beyond my validation. She brings alive Joséphine and makes her hold her ground like a seasoned actor.

The technical department has worked to their limit to deliver a film that is visually stunning and sound from all ends. The background music is the cherry on top one relishes. Just the opening battle and you are sold.

Final Verdict:

A movie that is very interesting but also not perfect to be a foolproof winner. There are ace actors, a winning BGM, but also some flaws.


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