After a day’s rest, I have some work to do with the pending weekend releases on Monday. With that, I finished watching the new English film Napoleon which is available in a theatre near you. This has been the clash of the Titans as far as the veteran directors are concerned. So after Nolan, Scorsese and Fincher, it is the turn of Ridley Scott, all of 85 years old to showcase his mettle all over again with a historical magnum opus! I have been a fan of History and Culture, something that is also reflective in my reviews, and Napoleon gave me an opportunity to witness a vital part of world history on the big screen. This was a welcome change from the history back home wherein you are primarily restricted to the Rajputs and Mughals amidst the others. The world history would often give you a different perspective while throwing light on the characters that find themselves in similar events, which is why I was fascinated going into the world of Napoleon. So then does the film Napoleon manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Napoleon traces the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, a French military leader’s swift rise to the throne while also giving a little glimpse of his personal life and his equation with his first wife, Josephine. Now, I stumbled upon an article wherein I read that the original cut of the film was more than 4 hours long. But the moment I witnesses the length of the film here which was all of 158 minutes, I felt deprived of portions of the tale that would have elevated the drama to the next level. Yes, the story is fascinating and I would always be the first person to queue up for a historical biopic. But the screenplay here felt a little fragmented and scattered while giving me an impression of the account from Wikipedia directly. The patchy cuts did not help its cause, as the film transcended from one event to another without an organic transition that ultimately lead to a slight dip in my excitement levels.
The drama opens on a high when the final events of the French Revolution being played out against the backdrop of the rise of a military leader, Napoleon. The protagonist showcases his prowess by storming the city and nullifying the British ships before emerging victorious. But therein begins a little account of his love life featuring his first wife Josephine. I did like the vulnerabilities in his character with respect to wanting a ‘son’ of his own that prompts him with his aggressive tactics with his wife. Ideally, I would have liked a glimpse into his psyche too and the insecurities that he may have had while being away from his wife during the different wars. But these incidents seemed superficially touched upon wherein his actions did overpower his thoughts onscreen.
The proceedings are fairly interesting and they do partially immerse you in the drama. And I say partially because the flow in the drama never really allows you to completely invest yourself, while contributing to moments of disconnect right throughout. I don’t wish to be overtly critical here given that the original cut of the film is 4 hours long and hopefully the same will find its way on Apple TV soon. But the events here may work independently, yet the soul in the drama is missing due to the choppy cuts.
Another interesting aspect of the drama was the number of soldiers martyred during the reign of Napoleon. This aspect should have been touched upon briefly after every war that transpires which would have had a greater payback at the end of the film. Yet, that isn’t the case here and it does dilute the impact of the film. The war scenes are terrific and that is when the films scores the best while being shot beautifully. The vulnerability of the protagonist is showcased decently well in the second hour but the lack of investment in his character doesn’t allow you sufficient time to empathize with him. The events leading to the final act are wonderful with the expansion war sequence of the Battle of Waterloo that eventually leads to the downfall of the emperor. By the end of it, I did feel a little empathetic in the exile sequence but it was a little too late in the day! Overall, the screenplay is fragmented in most sequences that work well individually while not quite having the same impact holistically!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are well penned and they do their bit in atleast trying to get into the psyche of the protagonist, although managing to do so at a superficial level. The BGM is soothing and playful(at times), and it raises the drama at several junctures in the screenplay. The cinematography is wonderful, effectively capturing the battle sequences with aplomb. The final shot of the ’emperor’ falling has to be one of my favourites from the film, and that did evoke a whole lot of sentiments in the drama as well. The editing is choppy amd drastically brings the drama down while also diluting the impact overall. Director Ridley Scott needs to be applauded for showing the vigour to attempt a magnum opus at a tender age of 85! The direction shows glimpses of brilliance in sequences individually and I can’t wait to watch the 4 hour cut which would give me a better picture on how well Ridley Scott has handled the subject.
The performances are quite good by the ensemble cast. Ben Miles as Caulincourt is top notch wherein he pulls off his role with a certain sense of ease. Tahar Rahim as Paul has his moments to shine. Vanessa Kirby as Josephine is probably the pick of the actors for me. She showcases her vulnerability beautifully while often being a mute spectator to the antics of her husband. She is a delight to watch in every sense of the word. Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon yet again delivers a towering act although I would say this isn’t anywhere close to his best. The benchmark of his performances is so high that this ‘slightly’ lesser performance(although towering) will have people briefly dismissing it nonchalantly. But he taps into some vital emotions, from being a maniac to showing moments of softness in the final act, and that itself is a testimony to the range of a performer. All other actors are good as well.
Napoleon boasts of strong performances in an engaging but fragmented drama that doesn’t have the kind of impact it ought to have been due to its choppy editing. It isn’t bad at all but I expected better, while cautiously awaiting the 4 hour cut to premiere on OTT soon! Available in a theatre near you!