Napoleon (2023)

by | Nov 22, 2023 | Movie Reviews, New In Theaters | 0 comments

Napoleon is a gripping historical epic examining the military career of Napoleon Bonaparte and how he came to power as Emperor of France after the revolution. Combining all the world history knowledge you accumulated in high school and all the untold behind-the-scenes marital history on Bonaparte that you never knew, Napoleon plays out like the best kind of historical documentary you could hope to watch on the subject. I found myself constantly remembering certain historical outcomes as the film progressed and it was still fascinating to see some of these historic moments take place, regardless of whomever wins or loses.


Working his way up in the military rankings during the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) puts his brilliant military strategy into action and proves himself time and again in the eyes of the French leadership and citizens. After meeting fair Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), Napoleon’s life is forever in her heart despite their martial trials and tribulations. For all his glorious victories, Napoleon leaves a wake of dead soldiers wherever he travels and eventually this will catch up to him even after he ascends to the rank of Emperor.

Ridley Scott was exactly the right director to tackle this historical figure and especially the time and place the story is set during. With dual focus on the military mind and the fragile ego Napoleon possessed, Scott creates a riveting showcase of how one of the greatest military leaders of all time ended up overestimating his enemies and did so at the expense of tens of thousands of troops. Never one to shy away from violence and blood, Napoleon’s war sequences are in-your-face horrifying with the full display of what cannonballs and musket balls can do to the human body. Watching legions of young men stab, fight, slash, and beat one another in the worst weather conditions makes for stunning and harrowing displays of what these battles were truly like.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a very tempered performance of the man known for creating his own insecurity complex, flashing bits of jealousy and ego amid his usual stoic demeanors. The ego goes both ways, as it’s incredibly entertaining to see him pull off brilliant military tactics that catch the enemy and audience by surprise as he watches and smirks from afar. In his more private moments with Kirby, he’s incredibly vulnerable and even sometimes a complete weirdo in his sexual pursuits. The need to birth and heir to the throne creates for some tense and hilarious moments between the two leads, touching on bits of comedy that are sprinkled throughout the film as well.

Napoleon succeeds as a brilliant examination of one of the more incredible historical figures we have record of, and it also serves as a realistic look at the brutality of war in the pursuit of power. Though Ridley Scott has promised a four-hour version of Napoleon will be releasing on Apple TV+, I feel it’s more than worth it to take in this spectacle in the theaters on the biggest screen you can find! Despite falling short on examining the marital relationship that all the marketing suggests is the focus of the film, there’s plenty to rave about with what’s in the 2.5 hour cut and I anticipate that the fuller version will inform us more on that relationship. Ridley Scott has done it again and truly shows no signs of stopping or slowing down, even into his 80’s!

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