The highly anticipated film Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix, opened at Coronado’s Vintage Village Theatre Wednesday, Nov. 22. Written by David Scarpa and directed by Ridley Scott, the film is based on the true story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power in France. Touted as an ‘epic historical drama’ of Napoleon’s military prowess, ambition, and the love story with his beloved Josephine, the film sadly falls short.
Academy award winning actor Joaquin Phoenix has had many great performances in the past, but gave what I thought was a bit of a disjointed portrayal of Napoleon. Phoenix made Napoleon seem like a socially awkward and somewhat childlike character at times, a well-spoken gentleman at other times and a crude and disrespectful lover to Josephine. It was difficult to see how this character rose to power in France.
As a lover of history, I was hoping this film would show how Napoleon became a great military tactician, how he inspired his troops to follow him across Europe, and how his success brought him to power. While there were many glimpses into the tactics showing Napoleon’s ability to conceal his troops, use of mobile light cannons and elements of surprise, his overall command presence was lacking.
There were moments in which the troops showed their love and admiration for Napoleon, but I couldn’t reconcile how the man portrayed on the screen earned their respect and trust.
The movie did have some highlights. There were elements of humor throughout, the historical timeline of events was easy to follow and did provide context, and the costume design and attention to detail when portraying France in the late 1700s and early 1800s was impressive. However, I felt the film could have been so much more.
Napoleon was not only a legend in the military history books, his love affair with Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby, is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. The love letters written by Napoleon on the battlefield were read by Phoenix during the film, showing the deep feelings Napoleon had for Josephine. Unfortunately, the interaction on-screen between Phoenix and Kirby did not make it feel like there was any true love between them. The dynamic between the two was shown more as an infatuation by Napoleon and an ambitious Josephine tolerating his antics and crude behavior.
Leaving the film I wondered what the writers and producers wanted the audience to come away with. While it had moments of humor, some grand battles and glimpses of a love affair, the film left me disappointed.
Rating: R, War/Action
Run Time: 2h 38m
Director: Ridley Scott
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