Napoleon tells the story of a whole nation through a single marriage. The historical epic, helmed by legendary director Ridley Scott, plays fast and loose with history to craft a Napoleon biopic that’s both conventional and subversive. Scott is happy to play the Dad Movie hits — big battles, meticulous period detail, and a few expertly placed, extremely funny jokes. But in the film’s dramatic beats, Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa push back against the Great Man narrative that so many historical biopics follow. Napoleon isn’t a movie about grand triumph, or about disastrous failure. It’s a story about masculine insecurity, and how it can reduce the world to violence.
Scott’s film recounts the greatest hits of Bonaparte’s rise and fall, beginning in 1789, amid the French Revolution, and ending with his second exile and death on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. Juxtaposed against Napoleon’s campaign of power and ambition is his tumultuous relationship with his wife Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby), which Napoleon portrays as a psychosexual battle that in turn fuels his militaristic ones.
With this structure, Ridley Scott renders Napoleon as a film that somehow feels both frustratingly myopic and intensely considered. Joaquin Phoenix, reuniting with the director for the first time since 2000’s Gladiator, gives a performance that’s an inversion of Gladiator’s power-hungry Commodus, the role that made him famous. Under Scott’s direction, Phoenix crafts a restrained, layered depiction of the legendary French leader. This version of Bonaparte is tremendously assured and wildly insecure, a man who distances himself from his own egotism by acting as if his rise to power is an inevitability that requires no action or plotting ofRead more on polygon.com