After 23 years, director Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix are reunited in Napoleon. Phoenix starred as Commodus in Scott’s Gladiator in 2000.
Twenty-three years later Phoenix rises as Napoleon Bonaparte, a role where he simmers with that quiet tone of anger and power. The seriousness of Phoenix’s performance led Scott to rewrite the script. But even with the rewrites, Napoleon is one of the most historically and chronologically accurate biopic adventures audiences will experience. With outstanding cinematography and faithful writing, Napoleon soars with wonder.
The plot of Napoleon gears, of course, on French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, a daring character who refused to lose and always got what he wanted. Napoleon embarks on a journey of power and conquering. He initiates a military campaign that is unparalleled in human history.
In addition to his military activities, the film also focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with his wife, the Empress Josephine (played by Vanessa Kirby). Even Josephine cannot bear the reputation he is gaining as he creates a landscape of despair that serves to benefit Napoleon, but not those around him and certainly not the people he conquers. That doesn’t matter to Napoleon though, as his self-absorption burns up the screen through the eyes of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, with the film’s audience knowing that there is going to be more and more war, and more tension between Napoleon and Josephine.
Napoleon is enthralling to an almost overwhelming extent, but it is a film that is hard to look away from. Napoleon proves that he is a person with incredible power and authority. But to gain all that he is involved in corruption of politics that causes the film to become a roller coaster, especially around the historic moments the film visits. The events range from the invasion of Russia to the Battle of Waterloo. Violence is, of course, the tactic that Napoleon uses and Scott’s directing speaks volumes in Napoleon.
Although there are many battle sequences in Napoleon, they are not repetitive like some may anticipate, especially if they have seen Scott’s other films ranging from Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Last Duel (2021), and more. Here there are realistic fight scenes that only Scott could produce. The weaponry in Napoleon has an impact, but so does the weather. The lighting is often surreal, especially where there is a war on a winter front. In one scene there is a stampede of war over a frozen river blended with a treacherous snowstorm that is stunning. There are gun powder, cannons, and ultimate destruction to the masses. Napoleon’s lust to conquer serves him well for his evil purpose of as his power continues to rise.
As I mentioned, the film is two-sided, showing his warring powers contrasting with his relationship struggles with the Empress Josephine. As she gives him what he desires but also questions what he is doing on the battle front, she proves that it is impossible to fulfill Napoleon’s satisfaction. Being a ruler is the only thing that really matters to Napoleon. Not Empress Josephine’s happiness, but his lust for power.
Napoleon is simply a triumphant adventure of history and a mind-blowing experience. The film soars with wonder, and it starts with Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing performance. It is simply unforgettable. Three-and-a-half out of four stars.