Napoleon ★★★

Racing through Napoleon's military and poltical career between 1793 and 1821 at a pace where years, events, and even individual characters start to blur together (I dare anyone to be able to keep track of Napoleon's brother or to tell apart any member of the French government not named Talleyrand), Napoleon's dramatic misshapenness and lopsidedness at some point starts to feel like an act of spite, as if Scott is pre-emptively making the case for why this story requires a four-hour cut. But while that may keep the film from being truly successful as a unified work – and from ever developing the thematic rigour of something like The Last Duel – I'm not going to complain too much about getting to see a two-and-a-half-hour historical epic with large-scale battles, lavish costumes, textured sets (I do love the visual refrain of post-revolutionary dignitaries gradually moving back into the cavernous husks of the old aristocracy), ridiculous historical liberties, and one of European history's major figures being portrayed as weirdly compelling creep. Yes, my brain switched off whenever the film ostensibly reached for sincerity (because Joséphine is also not granted enough of a personality for those pivots to work), but all things considered, I had a good time.

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