Napoleon movie review: Ridley Scott’s film about the French general addresses one of the most pressing debates of our times | Movie-review News


“Terror is nothing but justice… severe, prompt, inflexible justice.” So begins Napoleon, promising us a political film resonant with one of the most pressing debates of our times, even if the setting is the turmoil following the 1789 French Revolution.

However, Ridley Scott, a director of big men and big spectacles, is not interested in anything as complex. His Napoleon, written by David Scarpa, is an impressively mounted biography of the general who would redefine the battlefield, but you will come away not much wiser about the man himself.

Whatever insecurities the “Corsican thug” who would rise to become the Emperor of France seems to wear like a second skin are the workings of Joaquin Phoenix, in another fine performance by the actor. And a lot of that has to be do with his relationship with his beloved Josephine, played to equally impressive effect by Vanessa Kirby. Theirs is a love story for the ages, and so is the tumultuous union Phoenix and Kirby have here – lined with the lingering tension between them, of he loving her more than she ever will, and she with her higher social standing (despite her destitute widow status) always a little condescending about his hunger for more.

However, their relationship is only the side dish to what is the main course here, which is the series of battles that would fuel Napoelon’s rise from a lowly soldier considered an outsider due to his Corsican origins to being one of the greatest generals the world has seen, and Emperor. These are brutal, harsh wars, fought hand-to-hand, in desolate battlefields, and if the film begins with Marie Antoinette being guillotined – right up to a close shot of her head with the vegetables thrown at her clinging to her haunting, blonde hair – we see at close range what mortar shells do to men and horses alike.

The war fought over the wintry, icy expanse of Russia, where blood mixes with snow, and which would prompt the beginning of Napoleon’s slide, is particularly chilling.

Festive offer

It’s never easy to decide what to leave out of a biopic, and here Scott covers just too much territory, from the first battle of Toulon, to Napoleon’s historic Egypt conquest, to his battle-of-the-wits encounters with different royalties which are only too keen to swat aside the ambitious upstart from France, to of course the Battle of Waterloo.

All through, Napoleon keeps sending those yearning letters of his to Josephine, pouring his heart out and hoping to hear the same from her – even after he has had to divorce her as she is unable to give him an heir.

Rupert Everett is another inspired choice, to play the Duke of Wellington in the Battle for Waterloo. The battle itself is more clumsy, for being the defining clash which would blow a big hole into Napoleon’s reputation as a master battle tactician.

At 160 minutes, Napoleon packs in just too much, even if a lot of it is good. Scott apparently has a longer version closer to 4 hours ready for release later (Napoleon is an ‘Apple Original Film’), and perhaps that will do more justice to the man who changed the history of France and Europe in ways more than just war, giving it a formal system of laws and finance.

However, as the credits roll at the end with a list of the number of dead left in his 61 battles, one suspects we are not going to get that side of Napoleon. Perhaps, this film is informed by today’s politics after all, which leaves few spaces for grey.

Asked if he got Rajkumar Hirani to help put together a show inside the prison, she said, “We were planning a welfare show like Umang, and for that, yes, he contacted… The show was good, but we could not go ahead with it.

Director – Ridley Scott
Cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim
Rating – 3.5/5


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