Napoleon Movie Review: Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby Delight in Ridley Scott’s Messy French Epic

Napoleon is Directed by Ridley Scott and Stars Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby

Napoleon review with Joaquin Phoenix, Ridley Scott and Vanessa Kirby movie
Napoleon, Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is an overtly ambitious cinematic endeavor, a sprawling historical drama that delves into the life and conquests of the iconic French military leader. Clocking in at well over two hours, the movie impresses with its visual grandeur, meticulous attention to detail, and breathtaking battle sequences reminiscent of many of Scott’s previous epics – most notably Gladiator or The Last Duel. The veteran director, now 86 years old, continues to demonstrate his mastery of the genre, particularly in capturing the ferocity and brilliance of Napoleon’s military campaigns.

It’s impossible to not be astounded by the sheer scale and magnitude of the production. From the massive, detailed set designs to the stunning cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, Napoleon stands as another clear example of Ridley Scott’s commitment to delivering a visually spectacular experience. The Battle of Austerlitz, in particular, stands out as a showcase of Scott’s established directorial eye, with a plethora of unique shots and comprehensive coverage that immerses the audience in the chaos and strategy of Napoleon’s own mind and battle tactics.

However, amidst the grandeur, Napoleon does occasionally falter, feeling like it’s trying to blend two disparate movies into one cohesive narrative. On one hand, it’s a monumental war epic, vividly portraying Napoleon’s rise and eventual fall on the battlefield. On the other, it takes a detour into the complex and somewhat surreal psycho-erotic dynamics between Napoleon and his wife Josephine, portrayed with grace by Vanessa Kirby.

The film’s narrative ambiguity becomes a double-edged sword. While it allows for a multifaceted exploration of Napoleon’s character, it can also leave the audience feeling disoriented. It’s challenging to discern whether the film aims to provide a comprehensive historical account or delve deep into the psychological layers of Napoleon’s complex personality. Ridley Scott’s intentions in this regard remain elusive, leaving me wondering about the true focus of the movie.

Reviews for Films like Napoleon (2023)

Joaquin Phoenix, in the titular role, delivers an exhilarating performance, though it’s hard to escape the feeling of watching Joaquin play Napoleon rather than fully embodying the character. Phoenix’s struggle to find the right angle on Napoleon results in a performance that feels somewhat detached, as if he is merely a cipher for the era rather than a fully realized historical figure. This lack of depth in character motivation may find resolution in an extended edition rumored to hit Apple TV, promising a more comprehensive exploration of Napoleon’s complexities.

Vanessa Kirby, as Josephine, is the standout, portraying a character navigating various emotions and roles within her relationship with Napoleon. Kirby’s performance adds so much depth to the film, providing a counterbalance to the relentless war narrative that threatens to take over with each incoming battle.

The film’s editing, while skillful, leaves gaps in the storytelling, with plot points feeling rushed and disconnected. The extended edition may also address these issues and provide a more cohesive viewing experience. As it currently stands, Napoleon is a cinematic marvel with flaws, offering a captivating but somewhat perplexing journey through the life of a historical giant.

In the grand scheme of Ridley Scott’s recent period pieces, including The Last Duel and House of Gucci, Napoleon holds its ground as another solid entry. While not redefining Scott’s career, or his late period works, it contributes to his ongoing successful run in the genre. As we await a potential extended cut, and to see where Ridley Scott ventures next, Napoleon remains a fascinating exploration of a complex historical figure, underscored by Scott’s visual brilliance.


Genre: Drama, History, War

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Napoleon Movie Cast and Credits

Napoleon movie poster Ridley Scott


Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte

Vanessa Kirby as Josephine Bonaparte

Tahar Rahim as Paul Barras

Rupert Everett as Duke of Wellington

Mark Bonnar as Junot


Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: David Scarpa

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

Editors: Claire SimpsonSam Restivo

Composer: Martin Phipps

New History Movie Reviews from Cinephile Corner