Napoleon review: a thrilling, hilarious historical epic

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Joaquin Phoenix holds a spyglass in Napoleon.

“Anchored by Joaquin Phoenix's acclaimed advance performance, Ridley Scott's Napoleon is a thrilling, shockingly funny epic.”


  • Joaquin Phoenix's towering-yet-ridiculous performance
  • Vanessa Kirby's antagonistic acknowledging turn
  • Ridley Scott's unparalleled blockbuster direction


  • A disappointingly rushed final hour
  • A few tonally inconsistent moments throughout

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is a blunt-force apparatus of violence, spectacle, and — in an abrupt but acceptable abruptness — humor. Like its abominable accountable (played actuality by Joaquin Phoenix), the blur is neither attenuate nor indirect. With its alarming aperture sequence, which lingers on the blood-soaked after-effects of Marie Antoinette’s beheading, Napoleon announces its intentions early. The blur promises an up-close, bare attending at one of the best agitated periods in European history, and it mostly delivers. Its battles are as bleeding and atomic as admirers of Scott’s accomplished epics — namely, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven — will want, while its peeks abaft the blind of its eponymous figure’s administration are funnier and added amusing than abounding may expect.

Napoleon is, indeed, far added comedic and tongue-in-cheek than its trailers accept sold. It’s a agilely awkward film, one that doesn’t so abundant ball through the years of Napoleon Bonaparte’s activity as it does allegation through them. The movie’s advisedly unrefined access hurts it in its additional half, which is so truncated that it comes above as disappointingly slight, but it’s additionally what makes Napoleon’s antecedent hour so thrilling. Scott and biographer David Scarpa are so barbarous in their delineation of their subject’s beastly administration of both war and adulation that what emerges is one of the best refreshingly awkward actual epics in contempo memory.

Joaquin Phoenix stands abaft Vanessa Kirby in Napoleon.Aidan Monaghan / Apple Original Films and Columbia Pictures

Over the advance of its sizable-yet-not-long-enough 157-minute runtime, Napoleon attempts to blueprint its protagonist’s decades-spanning aggressive and political career — alpha with his acknowledged affirmation of the bank French burghal of Toulon and catastrophe with his acclaimed defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The blur doesn’t await alone on his aggressive career for its story, though, instead intertwining his political victories and defeats with the highs and lows of his alliance to his Empress Josephine (The Crown‘s Vanessa Kirby). Their relationship, as portrayed by Kirby and Phoenix, is accompanying amorous and mercenary, asperous and tender. It’s the affair that strengthens them and tears them down, Scarpa’s destructive cine establishing a annihilative codependency that makes Napoleon feel, at times, evocative of one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s annoying dramedies (see: Phantom Thread, Punch Drunk Love).

NAPOLEON - Official Trailer (HD)

Little connects Kirby’s Josephine and Phoenix’s Napoleon, including animal chemistry, alfresco of their ache for anniversary added and their aggregate charge for connected validation. Their accord is the antecedent of abounding of Napoleon’s greatest and funniest moments, which accommodate a nightlong altercation arena that jarringly bounces amid baby outbursts and tear-stained, hoarsely aside moments of alternate ego-boosting. Few added movies this year accept featured a distinct beat curl as amusing as back Scott cuts anon from Phoenix agreeable at Kirby about his affecting needs to his stone-faced acknowledgment that he’s “not complete like best men.” (Other highlights accommodate a dinner-table altercation amid them that escalates into a abrupt aliment action and climaxes with Napoleon petulantly screaming, “Destiny brought me to this lamp chop!”)

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As one of history’s best oft-ridiculed tyrants, Phoenix is astonishing. He plays Napoleon not as a brilliant, admirable agent and baby-kisser but as a awkward man-child whose absolute abridgement of self-awareness and affliction for brooding are what allows him to arise so bound up France’s alternation of command and additionally blinds him to aloof how abhorred he is by every added European leader. He’s both abashed of the feminine ability of the women in his activity and yet abject to it. Opposite him, Kirby is artful as Josephine, a woman carefully acquainted of how ambiguous her position absolutely is but who is clumsy to breach chargeless of the civic rules that bind her. The backbone of Kirby’s achievement ultimately lies in how she conveys Josephine’s accompanying heartbreak, frustration, and abandonment over the bottomless attributes of her circumstances.

Joaquin Phoenix crowns Vanessa Kirby in Napoleon.Aidan Monaghan / Apple Original Films and Columbia Pictures

At times, Scott and Scarpa draw too accessible of a band amid Napoleon’s aggressive career and the accompaniment of his accord with Josephine. For the best part, though, the film’s mix of action scenes and interpersonal ball works able-bodied — Napoleon’s assorted angry victories and defeats confined as alarming expressions of his own appetence and stubbornness. Behind the camera, Scott brings a steady, assured duke to Napoleon’s action sequences — acid from across-the-board shots of horses charging above battlefields to afterpiece images of swords clashing, cannons firing, claret spurting, and limbs flying. Scott, as always, assembles Napoleon’s action scenes out of thick, ample brushstrokes — painting maximalist portraits of commotion and violence.

The blur proves, already again, that few admiral are as able of administration such massive, crushing set pieces as Scott. Together, he and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski ensure that Napoleon’s three above battles visually angle afar from anniversary other. With its caliginosity ambience and abundant use of mortars and cannons, the Siege of Toulon emerges as an explosive, bathed acquisition that leaves all of its combatants caked in dust and blood, while Scott composes the Battle of Austerlitz out of agilely cold, blank images of men continuing amid snow-covered trees, ice breaking, and bending bodies biconcave below the apparent of a arctic lake. The director, conversely, stages the film’s acute Battle of Waterloo on an open, rain-soaked acreage — apprehension anniversary moment of Napoleon’s greatest defeat as accurately and audibly as he can.

Joaquin Phoenix wears a blooming accoutrement in Napoleon.Aidan Monaghan / Apple Original Films and Columbia Pictures

Napoleon’s final action helps accompany the blur to a abundantly admirable conclusion, and Scott’s administration of the arrangement is acutely impressive. However, Napoleon becomes added bulky the added into its runtime it gets. Once it alcove its 90-minute mark, the blur is affected to blitz through as abounding moments of its subject’s after career as it can and, in accomplishing so, it loses the attitude, faculty of humor, and admeasurement of its aboriginal half. Odds are, that isn’t the case in the four-and-a-half-hour cut of the blur that Scott has already discussed.

It seems awful likely, in fact, that the above adaptation of Napoleon will, like Kingdom of Heaven and Blade Runner afore it, ultimately be Scott’s director’s cut. That adaptation may alike be the filmmaker’s latest masterpiece. As it stands now, though, Napoleon is an badly absorbing but awry ballsy that ironically avalanche aloof abbreviate of the mark of abundance — if alone by about an hour or so.

Napoleon hits theaters civic on Wednesday, November 22.

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