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Homeentertainment'Napoleon' movie review: Too much romance, too little truth in Napoleon biopic

'Napoleon' movie review: Too much romance, too little truth in Napoleon biopic

Napoleon2023★★☆☆☆2/5Director:Ridley ScottCast:Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim

An unparalleled egotist, a suspicious lover, a sex maniac and a soldier who rarely fights. Add a Ridley Scott-Joaquin Phoenix collaboration to it and you get Commodus, the villain from Gladiator. It is shocking that this template dominates the portrayal of Bonaparte in Napoleon, flirting with fantasy and coming across as a propaganda instead.

The film opens to an agitated France, awoken by the French revolution but grappling with enemies. Napoleon’s (Phoenix) rise up the ranks as a daredevil general is underwritten while his romance with his first wife Josephine (Vanessa) is overdone.

The makers fail to capture Napoleon’s genius, making it mostly a portrayal of marital discord and childless marriage. The battles of Marengo, Jena and Wagram, which rank among Bonaparte’s top military successes, find no mention. And the depiction of the battle of Austerlitz, regarded as one of the greatest tactical masterpieces in military warfare, is wafer-thin.

An overemphasis on the Russian campaign and Waterloo builds an illusion of failure around Napoleon’s career. The plot struggles with facts, gets the age of its characters wrong, and is inaccurate in its hyped depiction of Napoleon’s role during the Red Terror.

With all his ego, adamancy and dictatorial tendencies, Bonaparte was still endeared by French citizens for his unflinching loyalty to his country. No scene could have better depicted this allegiance than the one where emotional Fifth Regiment soldiers fail to fire bullets at the emperor returning from exile and join hands with him. But this iconic scene is underplayed, and with that, the film loses its final argument to be an authentic biopic.

Code Napoleon — strong in its influence on French civil laws to date — finds no mention and that is just baffling. The one-sided narrative makes Phoenix’s portrayal predictable, recalling shades of Commodus. Vanessa is compelled to stick to the script’s monotony but shines nonetheless. Other characters have negligible presence because of the film’s obsession with the romantic angle.

Biopics must cover key facts and aspects of a person’s life, though the treatment can vary. With its biased depiction, the film disappoints the history buffs.

(Published 25 November 2023, 08:39 IST)

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