When Ridley Scott’s Napoleon was first promoted, I was excited by a shot of Joaquin Phoenix brooding under his bicorne, watching a roaring infantry under cannon fire. To play Napoleon demands both gravity and eccentricity, a combination Phoenix perfected in his Oscar-winning performance in Joker. Surprisingly, Phoenix’s Napoleon lacks much of the ferocity hinted at in the film’s trailer. Instead he conquers Europe as an oddball, both goofy and lovestruck while subduing Egyptian forces. Where Napoleon succeeds is on its battlefields. The fierce beauty of the Battle of Austerlitz is a cinematic thrill, and the showdown between La Grande Armée and the aligned Russian-Austrian forces is not to be missed.
Napoleon is in theaters beginning November 22 and will later stream on Apple TV+