Joaquin Phoenix plays French leader Napoleon Bonaparte in Ridley Scott’s historical epic.
Twenty-three years after the release of their previous collaboration, Gladiator, Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott have teamed up once again for Napoleon.
As the title suggests, Scott’s historical epic charts French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power, his fall from grace and his turbulent marriage to his wife, Empress Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).
Scott has proven his talent for battle scenes over the years so it is no surprise that the war scenes in Napoleon are visually magnificent and epic in scale. They are the highlight of the movie on a pure surface level.
The problem is that Scott and his writer David Scarpa don’t care to explain the context behind the battles or give a substantial reason why they are happening at all. They assume that everyone knows Bonaparte’s history and can use their own knowledge to fill in the gaps in the story. So if you are a newcomer, you might struggle to understand or get invested in them.
Detail and explanation were missing in other areas too. It felt like a lot of important information was skimmed over or left on the cutting room floor, particularly in the third act. Presumably, these moments will end up in Scott’s four-and-a-half-hour director’s cut, which will be released on Apple TV+ after the theatrical cut’s run in cinemas.
This theatrical version, which is two hours and 38 minutes, feels very heavily edited. Scott doesn’t offer us one flowing story and instead presents a choppy series of snapshots into Bonaparte’s life.
The story is also tonally confused. It is supposed to be a serious historical drama but there are some scenes that are pure comedy and it’s hard to tell whether this was unintentional or not.
Phoenix seems to be on a different page to everyone else; his co-stars give straight-faced dramatic performances whereas his oscillates between serious and silly. For this reason, it is hard to know what to make of his baffling choices.
Thankfully, Kirby does not disappoint. Her performance is consistent and captivating and the main reason why the marriage side of the narrative works the best.
Napoleon is a disjointed, unengaging film that can’t decide what tone it wants to be.
In cinemas from Friday 22nd November.
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