Metacritic (5/10), Letterboxd (2.5/5), Imdb.com (5/10), TMDB.com (2.5/5)

When it comes to making what’s touted as being a grand, sweeping epic, a filmmaker had better have his or her ducks in a row before beginning. Unfortunately, in the case of director Ridley Scott’s latest, that’s only half true. This account of power-hungry 18th Century French emperor/dictator Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) does a fine job of getting the picture’s technical aspects down pat, with its excellent production design, costuming, makeup, cinematography and visual effects (especially in the well-orchestrated battle sequences, even if they border on the gratuitous at times). However, the film sorely misses the mark on virtually everything else. The biggest problem here is its poorly composed script, which provides almost no back story about the European politics of the day (both inside and outside of France), leaving viewers who know little about the period puzzled beyond belief. The screenplay is also weak on character development, portraying the autocrat as a monodimensional buffoon, someone whom it’s hard to believe could have accomplished so much (for what it’s worth) by being a loutish dolt. And then there’s Phoenix’s hammy overacting, coming across like a tantrum-prone spoiled little kid than a head of state. It could be that tactic was intentional, perhaps to make a statement about the current political climate and one of its chief players, but falling back on ambition alone as a defining character trait is overly simplistic, even if it’s meant to resonate symbolically. In light of the foregoing, it seems like this project could have used some more in-depth development beyond its production aspects, and perhaps the best way to accomplish that would have been to expand the scope of the story. At a current runtime of 2:41:00, though, the only way to realistically achieve that would have been to grow the story by at least another hour, which means that this venture would likely have worked better as a miniseries than a standalone film. It’s rare for director Scott to drop the ball as much as he has with this offering, but I suppose it’s not too surprising when it comes to tackling something as big as this, an epic that ends up being anything but.