Coming off the decidedly mixed reviews of House of Gucci, Ridley Scott needed to reestablish his command of set pieces. He has certainly proven his ability to do so in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Alien and Blade Runner. In the early 2000s he roared back to form with Gladiator and Black Hawk Down.

Here he tackles the seemingly impossible story of Napoleon Bonaparte, with unfortunately mixed results. The expansive battle scenes are amazing, which is certainly Scott’s forte but when it comes to smaller chamber room seems Scott seems a bit befuddled. In the titular roll is Joaquin Phoenix who struts through history in often enigmatic fashion. His relationship with wife Josephine is equally mercurial.

French history is undoubtedly fascinating, and I do recall in college once having a pretty decent command of events. This film helped refresh my memory on certain points, but I would be remiss in reporting that all is accurate as portrayed by Ridley. That I will have to leave to history experts. Screenwriter David Scarpa is tasked with covering many decades of Bonaparte’s life, ranging from monumental international military battles to political upheavals and marital discord on the home front.

By 1804 Napoleon is crowned emperor of France by the Pope, with the former bluntly confirming the position by putting the crown on his own head. In the following year, Napoleon goes to war with Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. Ridley is in full command at this point in the film, showing the raw gruesomeness of using the frozen lakes in Napoleon’s strategy while the enemy is in retreat.

The film runs very long (157 minutes) and if you are not a fan of Phoenix, Ridley or French history, this film is not for you. If on the other hand you have enjoyed any of those three elements, you are in for a long and probably satisfying evening.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.