Joaquin Phoenix delivers an intriguing portrayal as the French emperor in Ridley Scott’s historical epic, depicting his ascent and downfall, making for an oddly captivating performance.
When Orson Welles, in his mid-20s, first visited the studio where he later filmed “Citizen Kane,” he likened movies to the ultimate electric train set for a boy. Ridley Scott, renowned for colossal historical epics such as “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” finds inspiration in Welles. In his latest grand spectacle, “Napoleon,” Scott continues this metaphor, manipulating colossal, stunning machines that both transport and overpower—an ode to Welles’s comparison, as he maneuvers the most immense train sets imaginable. Scott revels in this cinematic heavy metal realm.
While this biopic offers much to admire, there’s an underlying sense of frustration about missed opportunities amidst all the allure and visual splendor. Despite Ridley Scott’s apparent intent to craft a reverential portrayal of Napoleon, the absence of mention regarding the French leader’s administrative reforms raises questions. His bold military campaigns, still subjects of study in war colleges, are depicted as more luck-driven than strategically planned—perhaps a nod to his preference for fortunate generals over tactically astute ones.
For those seeking a nuanced depiction of Napoleon’s life, disappointment may arise. The film’s conclusion briefly touches on the human cost of his military endeavors, yet it notably overlooks Napoleon’s harsh policies towards dissenters, conquered nations, the reinstatement of slavery, and other controversial aspects of his rule.