It’s quite amusing to look at Napoleon next to Ridley Scott’s most famous historical epic, the Best Picture-winner Gladiator. While Gladiator is more or less just an extremely well-made prestige film that hits all the right notes according to the traditional standards for that type of movie, Scott is doing something very different with his latter-day epics. Napoleon isn’t a rousing film meant to inspire you or make you feel good–this story is instead meant to demystify history by demonstrating that Napoleon Bonaparte was just a regular guy who was responsible for millions of deaths. And that’s a lot more fun to watch than a more self-serious version probably would have been.
And likely more accurate, too. We, as humans, have a tendency to think of ourselves as very serious people who make only smart and calculated decisions, but we simultaneously know very well that isn’t true–we’re all a bunch of idiots. Nonetheless, we like to lionize major historical figures so we can hold them up on a pedestal as exemplars of the human race, and Bonaparte has certainly been one such larger-than-life figure.
But the Bonaparte we see in Napoleon isn’t treated as such. Sure, he wins some battles over the course of the film’s two-and-a-half hours of running time, but the emphasis here is on Napoleon the person, not the strategist. And that’s far more interesting, at least when it’s Ridley Scott doing the emphasizing.
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