From the execution of Marie Antoinette to the battle of Waterloo, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is a dramatic retelling of the rise and fall of France’s notorious emperor. I got to watch the movie a day before its November 22nd release date, here’s a basic overview of the movie:
Ridley Scott’s biopic starts with the execution of Antoinette during the infamous Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. The movie then focuses on the many aspects of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life including his relationship with Josephine Bonaparte, his military feats, and his rise to becoming the emperor of France. The movie depicts several battles Napoleon commanded such as the Siege of Toulon in 1793, the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798, and his final fight in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In between these battles, we get scenes of Napoleon’s life with his wife, Josephine, which depicts Napoleon as a more vulnerable person. The movie ends with his exile to Saint Helena.
Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Napoleon in this movie was exceptional. Despite not working with Scott since he depicted the emperor Commodus in the academy award-winning film Gladiator, he was able to depict the enigmatic personality of the emperor, both a military genius who commanded the powerful French military, and a flawed man who projected his insecurities into the people around him. This added depth to a figure we mostly see for his success as a general and emperor. Vanessa Kirby’s performance as Josephine was also stellar. She brought a new perspective of Napoleon’s life and gave life to a historical figure that has not received the attention she deserves. Josephine being portrayed as powerful during intimate moments with her partner further illustrates Napoleon’s vulnerability.
Outside of the narrative, the setpieces in the movie were incredibly immersive. The costumes were accurate to the time period, and the settings were so beautiful I wanted to walk through the screen and visit them.
What this movie most excels in, however, is its battle scenes. Out of the battles depicted in this epic, I believe that the two best scenes were the Siege of Toulon at the beginning of the movie and the Battle of Austerlitz near the midpoint of the movie. Both scenes had stunning visual effects and cinematography which illustrated the brutality of line combat during this era. They depicted The Siege of Toulon was during dark hours, so the fire ignited from the canons was the only light that illuminated the scene. This painted a very grim and scary picture for the people fighting in this battle during the start of Napoleon’s career. The Battle of Austerlitz was amazing as well. The battle took place when Napoleon was a more experienced tactician, which they showed through his impressive battle strategy during the scene. Shots of cannons hitting the ice causing many Russian and Austrian soldiers to drown, showed the horrors of slowly succumbing to the freezing waters of Austerlitz.
The climactic Battle of Waterloo was amazing: the back and forth between Napoleon’s slowly deteriorating French forces and the now powerful coalition led by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Blücher shows the aging of Napoleon,eventually leading to his defeat, ending 23 years of war.
This is not the first time this decisive battle has been on the silver screen: Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1970 film, Waterloo, depicts the fight in a more long and drawn-out scene. However, I believe that Ridley Scott’s depiction has its place: it was able to depict the famous square formation, used by the coalition to counter Napoleon’s cavalry forces, in a more dramatic sense. This caused this scene to have more impact on the downfall of the former Emperor’s forces.
In between battles, you get to see Napoleon’s life as the Emperor of France. These scenes broke the tension between the battles and were more lighthearted while still maintaining the dramatic tone throughout the movie. There were some comedic scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that gained a slight chuckle from the audience.
Overall, Scott’s historical epic was great–the battle scenes were very entertaining, and I believe that it gave more depth to the historical figure. Currently, the movie is sitting at 61% on Rotten Tomatoes by critics and has a 60% Audience score as of November 25th. Most of the complaints were about the length of the movie and pacing, but personally I didn’t have this issue, as I felt the entertaining scenes made the time go by faster. If you are a fan of drama and want to see beautiful cinematography and a great story, you should definitely consider watching this film, which is currently only in theaters, but will be released to Apple TV in the near future.