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Napoleon (English) Movie Review: NAPOLEON rests on fine performances and spectacular battle scenes.

NAPOLEON is the story of the rise and fall of one of the greatest kings in history. Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) rises to fame after the French Revolution of 1789. In September 1793, he successfully lays siege in Toulon and defeats the British. The battle gives him a lot of recognition and he’s promoted from the post of colonel to brigadier general. He soon falls in love with Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby) and has a tumultuous relationship with her. In 1798, he proceeds to Egypt to further undermine the British and their trade interests in Asia. He cuts short his trip when he learns that Joséphine is having an affair with Hippolyte Charles (Jannis Niewöhner). This is seen as an act of desertion but Napoleon saves himself smartly. Later on, he, Sieyes (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Roger Ducos (Benedict Martin) plan a coup. One thing leads to another and he becomes the king of France. He continues to rise with his tactical battle strategies but also commits certain mistakes on the way. What happens next forms the rest of the film.

David Scarpa’s story is brilliant. The roller-coaster life of Napoleon Bonaparte is fit for a cinematic adaptation. David Scarpa’s screenplay is interesting, but only in parts. The lack of a simple explanation goes heavily against the film. The dialogues are appropriate.

Ridley Scott’s direction is cinematic. He has a certain style and finesse and that is surely evident in several scenes. He depicts Napoleon Bonaparte with all his glory and flaws and that makes him human and closer to reality. He wows the audience in the battle scenes and certain dramatic scenes like Napoleon confronting Joséphine after learning that she cheated on him, Napoleon running to save his life after attempting a coup, Napoleon’s mother proving who is infertile among the couple, Napoleon wittily convincing the fifth regiment to switch sides, etc. As for the action scenes, the opening sequence and the Battle of Austerlitz take the cake.

On the flipside, several scenes stand out when seen individually. As part of the film, it doesn’t make the desired impact as the makers skip several episodes of his life. It seems like the makers expect the viewers to know Napoleon’s life story before they catch the film. Since that’s obviously not possible, one might not be able to fully comprehend the goings-on or change in the equation between the characters. The track that is easy to comprehend is that of Napoleon and Joséphine. But the bond they share is crazy and might put off people. Lastly, it’s a niche film and not meant for mainstream audiences.

Speaking of performances, Joaquin Phoenix once again hits the ball out of the park. He depicts his valour and vulnerability with utmost conviction. Vanessa Kirby, too, puts her best foot forward and seems at ease in essaying the challenging role. Edouard Philipponnat (Tsar of Russia) looks dashing and does well. The other actors like Jannis Niewöhner, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Benedict Martin, Sam Troughton (Robespierre), Paul Rhys (Talleyrand), Anna Mawn (The Duchess Marie-Louise) etc perform ably but get overshadowed by Joaquin and Vanessa. Catherine Walker (Marie-Antoinette), however, leaves a huge mark in a cameo.

Martin Phipps’s music tries to enhance the impact in several scenes. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is top-class. Arthur Max’s production design and David Crossman and Janty Yates’ costumes are well-researched. Action is brutal and not for the faint-hearted. VFX is top-class. Claire Simpson and Sam Restivo’s editing is weak. The 160-minute long film should have been shorter by 10-15 minutes.

On the whole, NAPOLEON rests on fine performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby and spectacular battle scenes. However, the long length, lack of simplistic narrative and niche appeal will restrict its box office collections.

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