[Review] “Napoleon” by Ridley Scott: An Ambitious Yet Uneven Epic


Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” is a film that ambitiously attempts to capture the grandeur and complexity of one of history’s most iconic figures. The movie navigates the tumultuous life of Napoleon Bonaparte, exploring both the political and personal dimensions of the man behind the legend. While the film boasts epic war scenes and moments of awkward humour, it falls short of delivering a cohesive and emotionally resonant narrative.

The flow

One of the most notable aspects of “Napoleon” is its incorporation of awkward humor into the storyline. Scott, known for his mastery in creating visually stunning and intense narratives, introduces an unexpected element of humor that, at times, feels out of place. The juxtaposition of serious historical events with moments of levity creates an awkward tonal dissonance that may leave the audience unsure of how to respond.

In certain scenes, the humour feels forced, almost as if Scott was attempting to lighten the weight of Napoleon’s historical legacy. The love story, a crucial element in humanising Napoleon, loses its impact when constantly overshadowed by the rapid shifts in tone and setting.

The jarring and abrupt cuts between the love story and the war narrative further contribute to the film’s uneven pacing. Just as the audience begins to invest emotionally in the characters’ personal struggles, the film abruptly shifts to large-scale warfare, disrupting the flow of the narrative.

The action

The war scenes in “Napoleon” are undeniably epic, showcasing Scott’s prowess in creating visually stunning and intense battle sequences. The scale and detail of the war cinematography are breathtaking, immersing the audience in the chaos and brutality of Napoleonic warfare. From sweeping panoramic shots to visceral close-ups, the film excels in capturing the grandiosity of historical battles.

However, despite the visual spectacle, the war scenes lack a sense of weight or stakes. The audience is treated to impressive displays of military prowess, but the emotional investment in the characters and the outcome of the battles is often overshadowed by the film’s uneven pacing.

The acting

The film’s portrayal of Napoleon, played by a charismatic lead Joaquin Phoenix, captures the complexity of the historical figure. The performance is nuanced, presenting Napoleon as a multifaceted character with both strengths and flaws.

However, the disjointed narrative structure prevents a deep exploration of Napoleon’s inner struggles and motivations. The audience is left with glimpses into the man behind the legend, but these moments are often overshadowed by the film’s broader focus on historical events.

The verdict

“Napoleon” is a film that attempts to tackle the epic life of one of history’s most intriguing figures. Despite its shortcomings, it is not without its merits. Scott’s directorial vision is evident in the film’s stunning visuals and ambitious scope. The production design and costume work transport the audience to the Napoleonic era, creating an immersive historical experience. The film’s soundtrack complements the epic scale of the narrative.

While it succeeds in delivering visually impressive war scenes and showcasing Scott’s directorial prowess, the film falls short in creating a cohesive and emotionally resonant narrative. The awkwardly inserted humour, coupled with jarring transitions between love story and war, disrupt the film’s flow and hinder the audience’s ability to fully invest in the characters and their journey.

Despite its shortcomings, “Napoleon” remains an ambitious undertaking that offers moments of cinematic brilliance, but ultimately leaves viewers longing for a more cohesive and emotionally engaging narrative.

by Dicky Agustiady