Analysis: Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’ – A Grand Display of Ego Over Authenticity

by Ethan Kim
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Ridley Scott Napoleon Review

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” headlined by Joaquin Phoenix, breaks the pattern of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rare cinematic appearances since Abel Gance’s 1927 film. Rather than portraying a revered historical figure, this depiction often resembles characters from fantastical time-travel movies like “Time Bandits” or “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

This 158-minute epic, showcasing grandiose battle scenes and large-scale military engagements, marks a departure from typical historical dramas. It introduces us to a young, visibly shaken Bonaparte in Toulon, contradicting the composed, formidable leader history remembers. Here, Phoenix’s portrayal echoes his role in “Beau Is Afraid” rather than the iconic French emperor.

Throughout the film, Napoleon’s portrayal is simplistic and brash. He seizes power recklessly, and his 1799 coup against the French Directory appears comically unplanned. His approach to warfare is reckless and impulsive, often leading to unnecessary carnage. The film humorously critiques his character, notably when he belittles the British for their naval prowess.

This version of Napoleon, rather than being a figure of greatness, is portrayed as impetuous and fragile. His tumultuous relationship with Joséphine, played by Vanessa Kirby, further underscores his emotional immaturity. The film navigates through significant historical events, including the coup of 1799 and the Battle of Austerlitz, but also delves into Napoleon’s personal life, especially his tumultuous marriage to Joséphine.

The film’s narration, though compelling, sometimes struggles to reconcile Phoenix’s melancholic portrayal with historical facts. The character’s ambition and intellect, crucial to his historical rise, are notably understated. However, this perspective also reflects contemporary critiques of unchecked power.

Director Ridley Scott, known for his ambitious filmmaking, offers a critical assessment of masculine authority, similar to his work in “The Last Duel.” This film, like his portrayal of Commodus in “Gladiator,” presents a complex view of power and ego. The final scenes poignantly symbolize Napoleon’s downfall, juxtaposing his iconic silhouette with the imagery of a sinking ship.

“Napoleon,” distributed by Apple Studios, carries an R rating for its intense violence, graphic scenes, sexual content, and language. It is expected that a more nuanced four-hour director’s cut will be released on Apple TV+ following the theatrical run, potentially offering a more balanced portrayal of Napoleon’s life and legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ridley Scott Napoleon Review

What is Ridley Scott’s film “Napoleon” about?

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” is a historical biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix, offering a unique portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte. It diverges from traditional glorifications, depicting him as brash, immature, and impulsive, focusing on both his military campaigns and personal life, particularly his tumultuous relationship with Joséphine.

How does Joaquin Phoenix portray Napoleon in the film?

Joaquin Phoenix portrays Napoleon Bonaparte as a far cry from the composed and formidable leader often depicted in history. His performance showcases Napoleon as visibly shaken, impulsive, and emotionally immature, highlighting his flaws and vulnerabilities rather than his strengths.

What makes Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” different from other historical epics?

Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” stands out for its critical and almost satirical take on the iconic figure. Instead of glorifying Napoleon, the film presents him as an impetuous and fragile character, challenging traditional views of historical greatness and masculine power.

What are some key themes in “Napoleon”?

Key themes in “Napoleon” include the critique of masculine power, the complexities of historical legacy, and the juxtaposition of personal vulnerabilities with public persona. The film also delves into themes of ambition, recklessness, and the consequences of unchecked power.

Is “Napoleon” historically accurate?

While “Napoleon” includes historical events and figures, its portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte leans more towards a character study emphasizing his personal flaws and emotional struggles. The film may take creative liberties, focusing more on thematic exploration than strict historical accuracy.

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