In Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’, political ambition is both pathetic and horrific

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When you hear the words “Ridley Scott’s Napoleon Movie,” it’s easy to imagine what that movie might be: a great, lavishly-produced awards-season blockbuster from the filmmaker behind it. Gladiator It traces the rise and fall of one of the most ambitious and great figures in European history – a legend, an icon, a living legend who once walked the earth.

In practice, though, it presents something very strange: yes, it’s a flamboyant portrayal of one’s political ambitions. But instead of treating that ambition as something admirable, he distorts it, casts it as insecure and tragic, an uncomfortable and immoral psychological weakness that drives him to lead war after bloody war, leaving millions dead. Wake up. In Scott’s gentle, darkly comic portrayal, Napoleon Bonaparte was neither a paragon of greatness nor a stirring legend, but a cruel and petty tyrant whose smallness led to great and senseless atrocities.

Scott’s film begins with the beheading of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, being led to the guillotine. But the end of the reign of terror is not a return to normality; Rather, it is an opening for political elites to sweep and control. In the crowd is the Corsican soldier Napoleon Bonaparte, who quickly rises through the French military ranks on the strength of some daring battles. The film’s bloodiest scene, which includes a cannon shot exploding the chest cavity of Napoleon’s horse, as well as a series of early artillery infantry, shows the inherent brutality of this wartime. The glory of Europe’s battlefields was a mass of corpses, dismembered and left to rot in every street and field.

Films have been made before that highlight the grim horror of the Time War, but Scott’s film breaks new ground in its central aspect of seriousness. Joaquin Phoenix plays Napoleon as eccentric, despite his rampant affairs with his first wife, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). His insecurities and eccentricities fuel his desire for heroics in battle to gain the glory that seems insufficient for the destruction of the continent and eventually crowning himself as emperor. Phoenix painting is all tix and paste. Despite his position of authority, he has trouble communicating with others, and often sees the conversation as a one-way search for futility, which often makes him laugh. One of the film’s best little moments comes when he’s talking to Brit, and he practically spits out the words: “You think you’re great because you have…Boats!” Phoenix’s raucous, odd-ball performance may have been partially a dig at former President Donald Trump, but it mainly comes across as a swipe at those who seek power to save their own self-esteem.

As political ambition and wartime glorification, Scott’s film is a delightfully average spirit in keeping with the best and most underrated films. Medieval tragic masculinity, The last fight. As a narrative, however, it’s a mess. Napoleon It comes across as timely and decisive, even if you don’t already know it is there Four-hour-and-change extended cut on board. The two-and-a-half-hour theatrical cut often feels like a miniseries truncated by feature length, and is so intent on fleshing out the title characters that it doesn’t really explain why so many people follow it, often to death. How could he rise from such humble roots. But the film’s dark sense of humor, in which a great historical figure and his political ambitions are recast as absurd and monstrous, is at odds with the depictions that often mark historical fiction. And in that way, at least, the Scots Napoleon Rather, it is glorious.

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