Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade
Runner) tackles the life of the namesake notorious French emperor/general
in Napoleon. It's a sprawling biopic (157 minutes) that has its moments
but runs out of steam by its conclusion.
When the film begins, Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) is a captain in the French Army in the midst of the French Revolution. After retaking a fort at Toulon that had been captured by the British, the ambitious but hopelessly insecure Napoleon is promoted to general. He marries the widowed noblewoman Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), and his battle prowess leads him to rise in power all the way to king/emperor.
The first two-thirds of the film has a dark sense of humor and Scott's staging of the battles at Toulon and Austerlitz are effective. The film is not for the faint of heart as it does not shy away from showing viewers things like cannonballs tearing apart human and animal flesh.
Napoleon and Josephine's relationship is compellingly dysfunctional and Phoenix and Kirby turn in strong performances. However, the film runs out of gas near the two-hour mark when Josephine largely exits the picture, taking away the film's most interesting relationship dynamic by far. Viewers know it's not going to end well for Napoleon, but, unfortunately, the climactic battle at Waterloo is the least exciting of the film's battle scenes. So when the film should be reaching its dramatic peak, it ends with a fizzle.