The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’ is a stunning visual journey but suffers from poor pacing

oaquin Phoenix stars as Napoleon Bonaparte in Ridley Scott’s latest big-budget epic.
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Isabella Tisdale
FilmScene at the Chauncey is seen in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

“Napoleon,” the latest work of director Ridley Scott, the mind behind the “Alien” series, is a biopic that addresses with much detail the infamous French emperor’s life, played by “Joker” star Joaquin Phoenix.

The film centered primarily around Napoleon Bonaparte’s three love interests — his ex-wife Josephine, his then-wife Mary-Louise, and war.

The dynamic between the two main characters, Napoleon and Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby, is one that works well for the film; their infidelity toward one another, mixed with their disturbingly primal sexual nature and domestic disturbances, assisted in fomenting viewer disdain for the characters.

This is where the film excels. Its depiction of the “art” of war in such a brutal and savage nature through which Napoleon carelessly strides like a ghost on the battlefield makes his character feel untouchable, yet charming and strategic in the apathy he holds towards the atrocities he has inflicted.

After watching a shifty traitor make decisions for the lives of millions for over 2.5 hours, its real-life relevance was clear — there is no art in war; it is simply a game of statistics.

But my major issue with this film is its pacing. While a nearly three-hour runtime is daunting to some, it felt too short for a film covering such a prominent historical figure.

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Though Scott had no trouble picking the most important scenes to make the final cut of the film, many of them felt over-trimmed for the sake of getting to the next scene.

This was especially blunt considering proceeding scenes would often take place years later and in a different setting. Simply put, there was a lot of bouncing around places and times throughout the film.

Further, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Phoenix’s performance as Napoleon. As someone who loves the Oscar-winning actor in nearly all of his pieces, such as his amazing performance in “Beau is Afraid” and “You Were Never Really Here,” his role in this film proved the actor seems to flourish best in smaller films where his character is more nuanced.

The role of Napoleon is a hard one to play, and while Phoenix’s stoicism worked well enough for the film, it was a challenge to see him in a role that offers so little for his massive acting range.

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About the Contributors
Caden Gantenbein, Arts Reporter
he/him/his
Caden Gantenbein is a screenwriting major as well as a film minor. He is a junior starting this fall and this is his first semester at the DI.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
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Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.