An emperor sanguine: Phoenix as the titular military commander in ‘Napoleon’ (Apple TV+)
Napoleon has conquered and Napoleon has divided. The historical epic, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the war-waging leader of France, has proved a somewhat unexpected hit at the box office since its release last week, surging past Disney’s Wish to take the No 1 spot globally. Reactions, though, have been decidedly mixed. The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey described it as “full of verve, spectacle and machismo” in a four-star review, while The Washington Post awarded it one-and-a-half stars, writing that it feels in stretches “like a mash-up of Leo Tolstoy, Edward Albee and Wikipedia”. These responses are pretty much of a piece with much of Scott’s late-career output, which has inspired adulation and derision in roughly equal measure. House of Gucci was largely ridiculed; The Last Duel was mostly vaunted. Alien: Covenant and All the Money in the World split critics down the middle.
Dissenters have generally focused on a few choice aspects of Napoleon. For one, there’s the dubious matter of historical accuracy; wholly invented scenes such as Napoleon’s army firing ballistics into the Egyptian pyramids have faced particular scrutiny. Scott’s own response to this furore has been unperturbed. (“When I have issues with historians, I ask: ‘Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the f*** up then.’”) For others, the problems with the film aren’t so much ethical as aesthetic: a quick scroll through social media will uncover no end of cinemagoers carping about Napoleon’s “unintentionally hilarious” dialogue. All opinions are valid, of course – but the idea that the screenplay’s comedy is unintentional couldn’t be wider of the mark.
Ultimately, Phoenix’s Napoleon is a figure in whose flaws we are invited to revel. To observe, to condemn – and to laugh atNews Related