Napoleon Star Cast/ Actors: Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte, Vanessa Kirby as Josephine & Tahar Rahim.
Napoleon Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes
War is brutal.
So are its consequences.
The victor, buoyed by confidence. A prime example is an unknown Corsican gunnery officer in France looking for a promotion.
The conquered, dethroned, banished. It happens to the same Corsican a couple of decades later.
Between being the winner and the loser lies director Ridley Scott’s vision of Napoleon Bonaparte, written by David Scarpa and photographed by Dariusz Wolski. The trio goes large scale and gruesome right away as it harks back to bloody 1789, the guillotine bringing to the fore the blood lust of the French Revolution. It opens with an execution, a bloodied head held up, even played with as comedy.
It is unexpectedly funny too. Dark humour in the most unlikely of sequences.
The gunnery officer’s strategised victory in overpowering the English at Toulon with ‘Vive la France’ gives him a leg up the ladder quickly. He climbs from Captain to Brigadier General to Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix). Fleeting touches refer to his mother’s place in his heart. A trophy, wrenched out of his dead horse: “Give it to mother.” Unexpected again in such a bloody scene.
Confidence turning into misplaced bravado and ego-blinding leadership has seen many a man slip, lose his grip and lose his crown. In Napoleon’s life, quite literally as the invasion of Russia is a downward slope onlyhe can’t see.
Alongside is his obsession for widowed Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), the only woman he loved, married, divorced and continued to love. She’s cheeky, adulterous. But he can’t give her up. There’s a sequence where he, the warrior who followed in the footsteps of Alexander The Great and Caesar, insists she say, “I’m nothing without you.” She does. But makes him say it too. He can’t do without her.
He can’t do without power either. But he also can’t see that the English, in alliance with Austria, Prussia, and most of France, have overpowered him.
All those notes from history classes, Napoleon exiled to Elba, his pathetic attempt to return to the throne, his Waterloo and the final banishment to St Helena, are grandly retold on the big screen.
So what’s it that stops Ridley Scott’s latest from being his grandest ever?
The unending war sequences, the tiresome letters to Josephine (which are at variance with fact when Napoleon has been chronicled as having had more mistresses than he could count) and the long running time of 2 hrs and 40 mins. Ridley Scott has said in his interviews that he’s paranoid about audience’s “bum ache”, films mustn’t be overlong. In the comfort of an Imax viewing, it isn’t bum ache but battle weariness that sets in.
Keeping it going are the riveting performances with Joaquin Phoenix right at the top, along with the unexpected humour that crops up and the gritty telling that’s sometimes a heartache – like the frustrations of an emperor whose wife can’t give him an heir.
Napoleon – Watch Or Not?: Watch it only if you like romanticised history on an awesome screen.