By Jack McLaughlin
Arts & Features Editor
I was not expecting one of the funniest movies this year to be one that was advertised as a dramatic history biopic - but 2023 has undeniably been full of surprises.
“Napoleon” is the latest from director Ridley Scott, and even at the fresh age of 86 he is still managing to absolutely crush it.
The film has seen scrutiny from history buffs at the many inaccuracies made to the real-life events. If you are willing to look beyond this and take in the story, performances, and set-pieces - what’s left is an awesome movie that leaves you begging for more.
Joaquin Phoenix steps into the role as the titular emperor of France, and the story chronicles his rise to and fall from power and the relationship he had to his wife Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby).
The script has a healthy dose of dramatic moments - but somehow manages to inject a shocking amount of humor into the story. Most of the time it’s intended, but sometimes it can be a little unclear. Regardless, it is welcome in the story.
What this movie accomplishes through this is showing how good of a comedic actor Joaquin Phoenix can be. He absolutely nails this performance - playing a character who is very much full of himself and has many odd quirks to him.
But when the plot requires him to be a calculating war strategist - he locks in and becomes a total menace.
Vanessa Kirby plays off of Phoenix’s bizarre energy perfectly. Her character feeds into his weirdness and makes lots of the scenes they share together have a strange air of humor to them.
When the story needs to be serious - it’s able to pull the brakes and stop feeding the audience jokes. The relationship between Napoleon and Joséphine is an interesting one and the very one-sided nature of it was entertaining to watch unfold.
Visually, “Napoleon” has a similar feeling to most of Ridley Scott’s other features. Lighting is very dim and the whole film feels dark, which is a style that works for a movie like this.
The stunning costume design is something definitely worth shouting out as well - the amount of detail in each of the character’s outfits deserves recognition at the upcoming Oscars.
To my surprise, there isn’t as much action as one would expect from a movie like this. Trust me, when it’s there it stays it’s welcome - but there are only a few big moments of it and the rest of the film is built upon the characters.
This fortunately works in the film’s favor - as the characters and story they are in are worth exploring, but it feels like a lot is missing.
For those who don’t know, this movie is also being released on the service Apple TV+ at a future date. It was revealed by Ridley Scott that the cut being released there will add nearly two hours to the film - and after learning that you realize how hollow parts of this theatrical cut feel.
The two hour and 38 minute run time flies by pretty quickly - though it feels like lots of scenes, the action ones in particular feel rushed along to get to the next part in the story.
A more fleshed out story that gets to have a deeper exploration of Napoleon and Joséphine with enough time for more detailed action scenes would be absolutely perfect.
This would be a bigger issue in other circumstances, but the fact we know more is eventually coming makes this flaw forgivable, assuming the director’s cut will be just as good if not better than this one.
Even though what is currently out is a theatrical cut with a lot of content missing, “Napoleon” is still certainly worth checking out in theaters just for the cinematic feeling it creates through its story and setpieces.
So close to perfect