An epic that’s dangerous, violent, surprisingly funny, and riveting.
Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” is an epic on the French general Napoleon Bonaparte, who was also the Emperor of France. His “Gladiator” star Joaquin Phoenix portrays him, and even though he’s a few inches taller than the real life general, he has magnetism in that role. The kind that makes him versatile. He probably won’t win the Oscar like he did with “Joker,” but he should at least be nominated. Or if he does win, I’ll be surprised. Or he’s just a great actor, who made the right call of not calling it quits.
At this very moment, we’re seeing this dramatization at the rank of 2 hours and 38 in theaters. And Scott confirms we’ll get to see a 4 and a half hour director’s cut version of it, as soon as it makes its way on AppleTV+. As I’ve mentioned with “Killers of the Flower Moon,” please don’t ask me when, because they haven’t set an online date yet. I’m sure the 4 hour version will be better, because it would have more to the story, but this is still riveting enough for my tastes.
Through Scott’s direction, we see the execution of Marie Antoinette (Catherine Walker), the battles when Napoleon’s armies defeat their enemies up until the Battle of Waterloo, of course, and his attempts to impregnate his first wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). It’s all beautifully photographed by Scott’s frequent cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, and it isn’t afraid to go further past the censorship. After all, the film is rated R.
Josephine, who was married to the executed Alexandre de Beauharnais, and imprisoned during the Reign of Terror. During their current marriage, we see her as a fornicator, which is why she had a fling with Tsar Alexander (Edouard Philipponnat), and infertile, which is why Napoleon couldn’t have a son with her. This led to him divorcing her, and marrying Mary Louise, Duchess of Parma (Anna Mawn).
“Napoleon” is Ridley Scott’s first directorial film since “House of Gucci,” which I liked even less than this. It was because of how Lady Gaga and Jared Leto were among those miscast and how self-pleasing it was. And I know he deserved that Razzie award for his performance in that film. Moving back to “Napoleon,” it’s quite an improvement on that. It was also written by David Scrapa, who also collaborated with the director on “All the Money in the World.” I can’t say every scene is accurate to history, but he arranges the characters to have their own humanities. That is if we can all some of their decisions parts of humanities.
And I meant what I said in my heading about it being “surprisingly funny,” because I didn’t expect to laugh at its hidden levity. I can’t describe all the comedy for the sake of spoiler alerts, but he sure does know how to depict a person who is bored by a conversation. Believe me, I have seen my father get stuck with a chatterbox at a bar, and me trying to process a long monologue from a friend who knows more about a show than I do. And in this movie, Napoleon really knows how to fool around with Josephine under the dining room table.
Phoenix (who also produced this) expresses the right amount range as Napoleon, while Kirby is magnificent as his wife, especially by the ways she shifts in tone. And their scenes together are drawn with riveting eroticism and development. There is also supporting work from the likes of Tahar Rahim as French politician Paul Barras, Ben Miles as Napoleon’s advisor Caulaincourt, Ian McNeice as King Louie XVIII, and Rupert Everett as Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.
The locations are also beautifully shot with some taking place in Paris and England, and I’m pretty sure they filmed the Egypt scene in Morocco. It’s all merged with the tone and complexity of Scott’s direction.
There are a lot of mixed reactions towards this movie with some critics loving it more than others. In my opinion, I would have loved to see the director’s cut version, so we can get more depth to the story, but this is still fresh enough to keep people and history fans watching. We should see it through Scott and Phoenix’s eyes, whether or not their depictions and reenactments are true, and we’ll have something to talk about afterwards.