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Film Review: Napoleon (2023)

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★

Available in cinemas | Runtime: 2hrs 38 mins

 

Ridley Scott needs no introduction. His familiarity with war epics is as extensive as it is impressive. Venturing into the colossal narrative of the life of the enigmatic emperor and tyrant, Napoleon—following in the footsteps of his idol Stanley Kubrick—Scott pledges and undeniably delivers on the cinematic promise.

The film unfolds through a series of breathtaking battle scenes, a total of six by my count. Ridley Scott's directorial prowess, melding stunts and CGI, crafts these skirmishes into some of the most visually spectacular spectacles ever captured on film. Yet, amidst the blood-soaked theatrics, there exists another compelling conflict—an intimate struggle that is no less captivating—the tumultuous relationship between Napoleon and his wife, the ex-courtesan Josephine, portrayed with impeccable finesse by Vanessa Kirby.


Their unconventional liaison, filled with awkwardness and surreal dynamics, provides depth and dimension to the characters. Napoleon, accustomed to adulation and glory, transforms into a petulant sore loser with peculiar displays of affection when denied by Josephine. On the opposite side, Josephine, a courtesan with a shadowy past, fearlessly confronts the challenges of 19th-century France, unafraid to counter Napoleon's eccentricities.


These nuanced moments humanise Napoleon, eschewing glorification in favour of revealing the man behind the myth.

Unsurprisingly, the film's opulent production design and cinematography serve as the narrative backbone, seamlessly traversing multiple years and continents—from lavish palaces to the sodden battlefields of Austerlitz, Waterloo, and the blood-stained snow of Russia. However, the true spectacle unfolds in the corridors of Tuileries Palace, where Napoleon and Josephine navigate emotional territories with potentially lethal consequences.


The film transcends typical historical epics, focusing not on Napoleon's tactical brilliance but on the brutal reality of battle. While epic in scope, the clashes are devoid of heroism, portraying violence and bloodshed with unflinching realism. Ridley Scott, unapologetic in his portrayal, puts the brutality of the war at the forefront.


While not without its imperfections, Napoleon emerges as a visual feast and a compelling history lesson on one of the most notorious leaders in history. The narrative, however, leaves room for a deeper exploration of the turbulent relationship between Napoleon and Josephine and its impact on Napoleon's already troubled mental state.


In the end, Ridley Scott's Napoleon paints a captivating tableau of entertainment and drama, propelled by opulent production and powerhouse performances, notably from Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby. It serves as a reminder to those unfamiliar with Napoleon's legacy of why his cunning strategies and ruthless ambition reshaped 19th-century Europe. Yet, it also delves into the darker side, illustrating how absolute power can corrupt even the mind of a troubled military genius.




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