By Jennifer Nanek
News Film Critic 

Movie Review: "Napoleon" Visually Stunning But Lacks Depth

 

Last updated 11/27/2023 at 11:08am

Director Ridley Scott's latest epic, "Napoleon," is a captivating portrayal of the rise and fall of the French Emperor.

I have been looking forward to this Napoleon movie for a while. This is a massive project for any director to take on and I was looking forward to seeing what Ridley Scott does with it. This movie is long at 2 and 1/2 hours. We are promised a much longer version on Apple+ sometime later (which I will of course watch).

With its grand scale, sweeping vistas, and meticulously crafted battle scenes, the film is a feast for the eyes, however, while the film's technical achievements are undeniable, its exploration of Napoleon's character, his motivations and historical impact is somewhat lacking.

To be fair there is a lot about Napoleon. To cover everything that Napoleon is and what he meant in just a few hours is a tall order. The story moves back and forth between his relationship with Josephine and his different battles over 20+ years.

Joaquin Phoenix (The Joker) delivers a mesmerizing performance as the titular character, capturing Napoleon's complex personality, from his brilliance and ambition to his insecurities and ruthlessness. The film also delves into Napoleon's tumultuous relationship with his wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, played brilliantly by Vanessa Kirby. Their passionate and volatile connection adds an element of emotional depth to the narrative but doesn't really tell the whole story. Josephine was very much a partner to Napoleon as he navigated French society and rose in ranks. I don't think the movie conveys all that very well. But again when it comes to Napoleon and Josephine there's a really lot to tell.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a mesmerizing performance as Napoleon.

Where the film truly shines is in its depiction of warfare. The battle scenes are visceral and gripping, showcasing Napoleon's strategic genius and the brutality of Napoleonic warfare. The film's cinematography is breathtaking, capturing both the grandeur of the battlefield and the intimate experiences of the soldiers. There's an impressive use of CGI here.

Despite its visual splendor and strong performances, "Napoleon" struggles to provide a compelling historical analysis. Why does Napoleon do what he does. Why are we telling this story? I know it is not meant to be a documentary and it is not historically accurate in many places, but there is a point here that wasn't really being told well. The one point that is very clear is that his wars were a waste of resources and lives. Napoleon's time was very costly to Europe overall.

Overall, "Napoleon" is an entertaining film, I very much enjoyed watching it. I strongly suspect some Oscar nominations will be forthcoming.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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