Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Rupert Everett, Sinead Cusack, Ian McNeice and Anna Mawn
Director: Ridley Scott
Scriptwriter: David Scarpa
Composer: Martin Phipps
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
Apple Studios/Columbia Pictures
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Running Length: 155 Minutes

Director Ridley Scott has quite a background in films with battle scenes and heroes who dominate the screen. Favorites of mine are “Gladiator,” “Blackhawk Down,” “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “Black Rain” and” Someone To Watch Over Me.” The list goes back quite a way. This year. Scott shows the audience a view of the French past with “Napoleon” and Joaquin Phoenix as the Emperor. Phoenix was also one of the stars of “Gladiator.” The script by David Scarpa focuses on Napoleon going up the French military ladder to become Emperor, with his marriage to Josephine (Vanessa Kirby) included, plus the exiles.

The film begins with Marie Antoinette and a beheading. This will catch your attention, and then we follow Napoleon as he is asked to take over the Siege of Toulon, then on to finishing the “Reign of Terror.”  Napoleon does wonders with another battle. Love enters now and Napoleon marries Josephine (widow), but they have no children. Napoleon is off to Egypt now So many trips, so Josephine has a lover. Time passes, there are more victories and Napoleon is crowned Emperor of the French, complete with velvet robe and crown. Alas, battle calls and it is the clever  Battle of Austerlitz over a lake where the Russians and Austrians are the losers. Back to Josephine and there is a divorce because of childlessness. A new wife, Marie Louise of Austria, and in due time she bears Napoleon a son. It is 1812, and time for war again, with an invasion of Russia that turns deadly, the famed Battle of Waterloo. The ride to glory is over for Napoleon.

“Napoleon” stands out as a Ridley Scott film complete with intrigue and action. That said, this particular film has rough edges and is turned into episodes of either war or romance. The dialogue can be witty and coy, with a sly look from Phoenix as Napoleon, or a sassy look from Vanessa Kirby. It is as though he was at one side of an arena and she on the other side and the middle was game for battles or intrigue or romance. Even though they divorce (spectacularly) there is, as the saying goes, “romance in the air.” This Napoleon is basic in his manners and does not always have the exquisite politeness of the French. This makes him different, and more so because of his choice in hats. Both actors, Phoenix and Kirby, give wondrous performances.

As far as visual, Dariusz Wolski’s camera work on battle scenes is spectacular, with horses, artillery and a special lake. Along with that, composer Martin Phipps brings just the right amount of background to each scene. Sets and costumes, plus hair styles and hats, from small to enormous, bring us to the wealth of France at that time.

Watching politics of the past on a movie screen makes one wonder just how many “Emperors” or “Caesar’s” there were from the dawn of time until now. Nothing seems to have changed and this particular “Emperor” was not killed in battle or beheaded, but exiled---twice.

Copyright 2023 Marie Asner