2023 has become the year for biopics about famous events and people in history but not all events or people are of the same significance to history. Nor are all films made of the same quality and vision either. Apple TV’s attempt to compete in this space may just prove that even a big-name director like Ridley Scott isn’t enough.
A look at the military commander’s origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine.
Ridley Scott is known for his epic-level storytelling and films. This isn’t the first film he has helmed with lead actor Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator). This film covers the life and rise of the notorious Napoleon Bonapart. The story takes us through his ruthless climb to the eventual emperor of France. and the battles he won and lost both at home and on the world stage. The film attempts to balance showing off the personal life of Napoleon, along with the public persona that he gained through his exploits.
Josephine was the love of his life and throughout the film, Vanessa Kirby did an outstanding job of portraying the complex and nuanced character and relationship that was the love between Josephine and Napoleon. Yet, for all of the complexity, Phoenix’s performance felt almost as if he was asleep for most of it, with very little effort given not to feel like it was simply Phoenix in cosplay as Napoleon. We know and expect better from Phoenix which leads you to believe the writing was a key culprit for the tedious feeling of all his scenes.
Even when we get outside of his personal life and into the battlefield, the expectations of epic battles are essentially few and far between. The trailers of the film used up all the best scenes to draw you into the film, with little left to work with afterward. At one point during the film, when Napoleon is exiled (for the first time), we hoped it was over only to find out there were still 30 more minutes to the film.
The director has promised a 4-hour director cut, and God help us if we have to watch it cause the film at its current run time of just shy of 3 hours needs things cut out. If anything, it’s a feat that Scott managed to make the film simultaneously too heavy on the biopic and yet not provide enough historical facts to make it compelling for the viewer who isn’t well versed in French history.