Review: In ‘Napoleon,’ the man behind the empire is surprisingly funny

Photo courtesy of IMDb

By Bella Whitmore | Intern

Apparently it’s the year of exposing prominent historical figures through film. Ridley Scott‘s “Napoleon” follows in the footsteps of Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” — and audiences will never be able to look at Napoleon Bonaparte the same way again.

Scott tells the story of the infamous French emperor with extravagant set designs, intense battle scenes and, most notably, hilarious yet subtle jabs at Napoleon as a person and more than just a successful military leader.

The beauty of the movie lies in the fact that it does not take itself too seriously, which is the opposite of what I expected going into the film. I was fully anticipating to sit there for three hours watching pointless gore, mind-numbing political talk and dramatic dialogue. However, I was pleasantly surprised by witty one-liners and creative directing choices. It made the movie genuinely fascinating and fun to watch.

Of course, when telling a prominent historical story, it is important to place the historical aspects on a higher pedestal, which Scott does in a way that is not boring for the viewer. His use of unique music, fun sets and camera angles make the dense and complex historical information more digestible and engaging. The balance of solemnity and humor is very hard to accomplish yet is masterfully done by Scott.

The dry and almost childlike delivery of Joaquin Phoenix makes the film very enjoyable and comical to watch as well. From his interactions with his wife to his conversations with the czar of Russia, Napoleon is depicted as completely socially unaware and childish.

Say what you will about accuracy and respect for historical figures — it was a fun watch either way. I was excited to see what ridiculous thing was going to come out of his mouth at any moment.

My favorite thing about “Napoleon” was how it subverted expectations. I think everyone can agree that no one was expecting to audibly laugh going into the movie, but it contains some of the best one-liners and witty jokes of any movie this year.

The film is a breath of fresh air among other historical and dramatic “film bro” movies that take themselves far too seriously. Ironically, one of the film bro’s holy grail movies, “Gladiator,” was also directed by Scott. “Gladiator” was monumental for its time and has solidified its role as a film classic, but no film should take itself seriously the way that one did.

“Napoleon” shows growth out of Scott and reveals that he is not afraid to take creative risks, even when it comes to dense historical material. I’m hopeful to see many more creative and funny biopics in the future that not only inform but also entertain.