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Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” cuts French legend down to size


Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Rupert Everett, Tahar Rahim, Edouard Philipponnat, Catherine Walker and Ludivine Sagnier. Written by David Scarpa. Directed by Ridley Scott. Opens in Toronto theatres Wednesday, with Tuesday night previews. 159 minutes. 14A

⭐️⭐️½ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

Sir Ridley Scott’s latest screen spectacle, “Napoleon,” is bent on demystifying a historical figure he’s described in interviews as a “curiosity.”

The British filmmaker comes not to praise the legendary French emperor/warrior but to cut him down to size, with a grim and American-accented Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. The actor stands five-foot-eight, two inches taller than the real Bonaparte, yet he somehow seems smaller than the odd little man up there on Scott’s big screen.

Assisted by screenwriter David Scarpa (“All the Money in the World”), Scott strips Napoleon of his dignity whenever the tyrannical titan strays from the battlefield. The film isn’t a comedy, yet it has many farcical moments that reduce the impact of the surrounding drama.

Reminiscent of an orange-tinted demagogue of current times, Napoleon confronts the world he intends to conquer with schoolboy taunts: “You think you’re so great because you have boats!” he tells the British ambassador.

Napoleon is depicted as childish, boastful (“I am destined for greatness!”), cruel, gluttonous (“Destiny has brought me this lamb chop!”) and cringingly kinky (he tries to kiss an embalmed Egyptian mummy). It could have been worse: Scott cut from his film a scene where Napoleon is on the toilet, dealing with bloody hemorrhoids.


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