Home Movie Reviews ‘Napoleon’ – Review
‘Napoleon’ – Review

‘Napoleon’ – Review


Celebrated cinema craftsman Sir Ridley Scott returns to the cinema screen with his most colossal work yet with an epic and lavish presentation of the life and conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte, who, from humble beginnings, rose to the extraordinary heights of power and an empire that spanned all of continental Europe. Now, his story arrives on the big screen in the monumental epic Napoleon.

Napoleon is a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Oscar®-winner Joaquin Phoenix. Against a stunning backdrop of large-scale filmmaking orchestrated by legendary director Ridley Scott, the film captures Bonaparte’s relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine, showcasing his visionary military and political tactics against some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever filmed.

Sir Ridley Scott reigns supreme when it comes to utter visionaries of the cinematic arts. As a director with the seamless ability to transition from genre to genre and who can create worlds of enormous size and scale, no one is more skilled than him. With a long list of desirable credits, including Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and The Last Duel, Scott now turns his attention to his most lavish and expansive project yet, Napoleon, which brings to life the French Revolution and the path that it would create for a young, talented and ambitious Corsican soldier, Napoleon Bonaparte, who through ingenuity, skill, and ruthless ambitious would climb to the heights of utter power. Scott brings to life with Napoleon an extraordinary vision that balances a taut and complex personal drama with that of nation-rattling epic war drama, and audiences will be left awe-struck.

The films of Ridley Scott carry with them an incredible visual flair, and the great director’s background as a draftsman and painter has led him to craft some of the most beautiful images ever brought to the cinema screen. Napoleon is no exception, and its imagery is wrapped in a gorgeous Baroque light channelled from the height of the Napoleonic age. And it makes for a stunning viewing experience. Cinematography, production design, art direction, costume design, prop design and score all work together to build this incredibly ambitious project, whose presentation feels like the grandest of operas. Napoleon is a lavishly visual feat from its depiction of the Revolution and the Reign of Terror to the decadence, splendour and hedonism that followed in the palaces and balls of the era, to the awe-inspiring feats of combat and battle that would re-shape Europe, all of it is presented on screen with such majesty by Scott.

Napoleon is a grand and opulent piece of cinema to behold, and the lavish luxury of the new aristocracy sweeps the audience up in the picture thanks to the beauty of its Baroque imagery. But it’s the film’s explosive battles where the dynamic energy of the picture truly stands out, and the experience of these battles is utterly awe-inspiring. During his life, Napoleon Bonaparte fought 61 battles, and Scott captured six of the most decisive ones in Napoleon. The director gives each of these set pieces their own rhythm and style, and each is a marking point for the developing life of Napoleon. At the Siege of Toulon in 1793, we find the young Napoleon using sheer force and youthful aggression to overwhelm British forces. And it is a bloody, violent affair. At the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798, his cannons made Egypt shake and quiver. His brilliant, devious, and Machivallein’s mind came into play at his decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 that cemented his power through continental Europe. Then there is the mighty Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, which defined the Napoleonic Age. It is captured with such force by Scott, and it is one of the most audacious and explosive battle scenes ever committed to the silver screen.

Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix leads from the front in Napoleon as the great general turned emperor. He offers up a dynamic and fully-formed presence as the great conqueror. Pheonix is regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation, and this talent was itself shaped by Scott in his exceptional performance as Commodus in 2000’s Gladiator. Now, more than twenty years later, these two collaborators have returned for Napoleon, and Phoenix is flawless in his performance as Bonaparte. He completely disappears into the commander’s presence and offers a performance of chiselled focus and frenzied egotism. The actor captures Bonaparte’s chaotic and aggressive personal life and balances it out against his natural strategic mind and gift for the battle that led him to be called a Master of War. Phoenix also finds himself in the fray’s vanguard and is always in the very midst of the fight. But it’s in Bonaparte’s aggressive desire for power and glory where Joaquin Phoenix’s performance truly excels, and it’s one for the ages.

Facing Joaquin Phoenix is English thespian Vanessa Kirby, whose star is rapidly rising, and she delivers an utterly flawless performance as Bonaparte’s lower and consort, Empress Josephine. Kirby shows an incredible range as Josephine, a complex and difficult woman who, on one side, is deeply affectionate and flirtatious, the other cold and abrasive and scornful of her husband’s infatuations, driving him in his grasp for power. There is a twisted co-dependence and masochism shared between the two of them, and you feel that Josephine was an ever greater strategist than her husband, as he could never fully possess her. Kirby captures the true spirit of the character, with her position as a glamourous host and trendsetter is juxtaposed with her lavish party girl antics, with her actions getting under her husband’s skin. Kirby’s performance has many shifting layers, and raw emotion shapes her role as Josephine. Her natural glamour and elegance add to the poise of her performance, and Kirby keeps Phoenix on his toes just as Josephine kept Napoleon on his.

The Napoleonic Age gave rise to some of the most dynamic characters to ever live, and Scott captures their presence with the intellect of a historian and an artist’s eye. He’s assembled a cast of some of the best talent working today, and their combined skill brings the Napoleonic Age to life. Tahar Rahim is the astute and worldly Paul Barras, a leading figure in the events that follow the Reign of Terror and who foresees the talent in Bonaparte and looks to put him to use. As Napoleon’s scheming political alley and foreign minister Talleyrand, Paul Rhys brings a formidable and deadly intelligence to a man that elevated Bonaparte’s ambitions. And finally, the great Rupert Everett gives a scene-stealing performance as Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, a man esteemed as one of the greatest military commanders ever. Everett is completely stirling in the role, capturing Wellington’s perfect ‘stiff upper lip’ pragmatism. Quick-witted and adeptly sharp, Everett’s performance is a tribute to Wellington’s command of Waterloo and delivered as a pure class piece.

Scott’s Napoleon is an epic for the ages, and its scale and size eclips his previous works. This picture captures the passion and fire of the Napoleonic Era and the events and characters that would change the course of the world’s destiny forever. Napoleon is immense and grand in both production and delivery, and Scott spares none of the violence, sex, emotion, or intimacy of the picture. All of it makes for an operatic experience. The great director applies no filters to the chaos and destruction of Napoleon’s wars and his examination of how far ambition can take a man. The conflict of drama meshes with the destruction of battle and is wrapped up in the glory of conquest for a gigantic viewing experience.

Napoleon is a grand and immense spectacle, and it truly captures the spirit of both the man and the era that bore his name. It’s also a testament to the skill and command of Sir Ridley Scott and is utterly epic to witness.

Image: Sony Pictures