Napoleon will be released in theaters on November 22nd.
The choice to make Napoleon Bonaparte, who is mainly described as a villainous, authoritarian leader, into the main character of a blockbuster film is extremely bold. But who better to direct that material than Ridley Scott, one of the best historical epics directors? Academy Award-winner Joaquin Phoenix portrays Napoleon in this new historical film. It is a story that showcases his rise to power as Emperor of the French. The film also touches on his relationship with his first wife, Josephine. While the film doesn’t hold back from the action on the battlefield that we associate with Napoleon, it’s the relationship with Josephine, portrayed by Academy Award-nominee Vanessa Kirby, that’s the film’s true heart.
Interestingly, Phoenix doesn’t use any accent work in his portrayal of Napoleon, which never really detracts from the big picture. If you’re a viewer who gets caught up in historical accuracies, this might be a conflicting point for you, but it otherwise allows Phoenix to focus on the nuances of the character. Napoleon is extremely poised and confident when on the battlefield. However, he can be a bit of a bumbling fool when it comes to one-on-one interactions, particularly with his wife.
Napoleon’s letters to Josephine are often used as voiceover narration.
It shows Napoleon had a way with words on paper but was significantly less eloquent in person. Vanessa Kirby plays Josephine as a prisoner of her own life – which she essentially was. While Kirby is great in the film in many subtle ways, we don’t stick with Josephine long enough to give her time to shine. It’s truly Napoleon’s show.
Scott masterfully directs the battle scenes, but the politics at play in the scenes between can be significantly more gripping. The film doesn’t try to persuade the audience that Napoleon is an empathetic figure, nor does it go out of its way to show him as a villain. It showcases several significant portions of Napoleon’s life. It shines a light on a performance by Phoenix that likely showcases how Napoleon would have been in person.
I give Napoleon 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is another solid historical epic in the impressive filmography of Ridley Scott, whose reunion with Phoenix post-Gladiator is a much-welcome one for audiences. Phoenix would likely get significant awards buzz in any other year, but the best actor category is quite stacked. Regardless, this one should be noticed if you’re a fan of Scott’s work.