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Napoleon Review: Ridley Scott's New Film Is Not The Typical Biopic And We Love Him For It

November has been a busy month for cinephiles and movie-goers and the latest theatre arrival was Ridley Scott’s long-awaited biopic, Napoleon, which, as its title anticipates, narrates the story of one of Europe’s most famous and controversial figures: Napoleon Bonaparte. 

I was quite excited to see this film and from the moment I watched the first trailer, I was counting the days to finally be able to watch it in cinemas. I must confess I was a little bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the film was very good, but maybe I expected too much of it, or maybe I was overhyped, but the truth is that the film took me by surprise in many ways.

Napoleon is not the typical biopic and it has many flaws as it has many remarkable achievements. Let’s start with the positive aspects of it. 

The movie is epic, and that’s a credit we must give to Ridley Scott, who is probably one of the last few real directors of Hollywood. I also think he is quite versatile, but there’s no doubt that some of his greatest films were period pieces, and after watching his latest film, The Last Duel, I was very excited to see this tale about Napoleon, a person who I didn’t know much of (outside of what school has taught me).

As I was saying, Ridley Scott is one of the greatest filmmakers alive, and he has a way of directing that not many can do, and that applies to battle and fight scenes. And since Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most important conquerors and fighters in history, the scenes needed to be epic, and the director did it with such ease, that it was really breathtaking. He didn’t hesitate to show the roughness and violence on the battlefield, as well as Bonaparte’s talent for tactics and no mercy for the enemy. In this film, he’s a cold man with hunger and a desire to conquer it all.

Something that really surprised me was that the film doesn’t glorify Napoleon. I thought I was going to see a movie that worshipped this figure, and I was very happy to see that it was quite the opposite. Napoleon is, in fact, a negative critic of the famous French Emperor, and for moments, It feels like a satire. I’m not kidding or exaggerating: I laughed more times in Napoleon than in any comedy movie released this year. 

We all know what Napoleon did. Yes, he might have done some good things, but he also did terrible things, and in many cases, his only purpose was to satisfy his own ego. That’s how the film depicts him, or at least that was my interpretation (especially when the credits start rolling and we see the numbers of how many men died fighting for him). We see a side of Bonaparte that we didn’t know. We see him kind of cartoonish, insecure and dependent on other people, especially his one true love: Josephine, portrayed by Vanessa Kirby.  

Before we get into her own performance, I want to talk about Joaquin Phoenix. After seeing what he did in Joker, I really wanted to see his take on Napoleon. I even anticipated myself and suggested that he might take his Oscar again for this biopic. But the truth is that, yes, he’s quite good as the Frenchman, but he’s not that great. For the first part of the film, It feels like he’s trying to adjust to the character, and about an hour later we finally see him comfortable in it. It’s definitely not his best performance.

Now, speaking of Vanessa Kirby, I thought she was very good. I didn’t know much about Josephine and the film does tell us about her. In fact, the film explains more about Josephine’s origins than Napoleon’s, and that’s the other thing I noticed too. The love story between these two was very complex and toxic, and I wish the film had explored more in-depth this topic. One thing: Studios need to give directors full control and freedom to release the films they have in mind, after all, they are the ones who directed them. Audiences have already proved that they are willing to go to cinemas if the story is worth it and trust me, Napoleon was very worthy, but they made a big mistake with it.

Ridley Scott filmed more than four hours of footage, and we only got to see a two-hour-and-a-half-cut. And it shows a lot. While I was watching it, I was constantly feeling that there were scenes lost in the middle, and many scenes felt out of context and with little explanation. Yes, the director already said that when the film hits the streaming we’re going to see the extended 4-hour cut, but what everyone witnessed in cinemas is incomplete.

I might be mentioning more negative aspects than positives, but again, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the film. It didn’t feel long and It was quite entertaining. I do have my own doubts about how historically accurate it is, especially after all those controversial statements made by Ridley Scott. I’m not mad about Napoleon’s portrayal, after all, he’s not a figure I sympathize with much, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one. Scott doesn’t hesitate to show the ridiculousness that surrounds him, and how many of his actions were childish and narcissistic. I strongly suggest watching this in the movie theatre, because the sound work is incredible and one of the best parts of the film. You can really hear the cannons exploding in your chest and It transports you to the battlefield completely. 

Napoleon is a good movie, It’s a decent biopic and It may get in my top ten of this year’s films. But it’s definitely not the best Ridley Scott movie.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Apple TV

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