Ridley Scott absolutely loves bringing epic spectacle to the big screen, for many years the seasoned director delivering sci-fi classics as well as historical dramas with spectacular results. He returns to cinemas with Napoleon and, having seen the film, the comments made recently by Scott on the press tour for the film make this even more of a wild cinematic experience.

Napoleon takes a look at the military commander's (Joaquin Phoenix) origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).
There's a glaring aspect of Napoleon that sticks out like a sore thumb throughout and that is just how funny the whole thing is. Now, I don't know if that was the intention of Ridley Scott but David Scarpa's writing often feels more suitable to a parody of the historical figure. It makes for an incredibly jarring viewing experience with the film all over the place tonally. Scott has spoken of a four hour cut that will be the better film and while that might be the case, I don't think I can fathom sitting through most of this again.

When it's good though, Napoleon shows Scott flexing his filmmaking muscles to deliver a number of grand battle sequences, brutal in their nature as expected from Scott. It's just that the film becomes too bogged down by almost nonsensical antics between the battles, a more serious approach working much better surely. With many filmmakers and studios opting to heavily use CGI these days it's refreshing to see an old school filmmaker utilising extras and practical effects to create such an epic scale to proceedings.
The performances only add to the jarring nature of the film in all honesty, Joaquin Phoenix's turn in the titular role something to behold as he ranges from petulent man-child to devious tactician on the battlefield. Sadly, it never feels as if Phoenix is giving it his all, as we've seen him do many a time before, leaving the film lacking a truly powerful lead performance. The most interesting and best performance comes from Vanessa Kirby as Josephine, the object of Napoleon's affection while bringing depth to the role with what time she's given. Kirby has made her mark on the industry in recent years and it's great to see her excel here.

While it's undoubtedly a bit of a mess, Napoleon is still worth a watch just to see exactly what Ridley Scott cooked up with his take on one of the most famous names in history. While he may not give a fuck what I, and many others think, Scott went more House of Gucci with this than Gladiator.

Verdict: ★★★


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