Directed By David Lowery
Starring – Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton
The Plot – An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, “The Green Knight” tells the story of Sir Gawain (Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger.
Rated R for violence and some sexuality involving graphic nudity
– Artistically exceptional. I wasn’t just astonished at the smooth, fluent movements and complex framing work from cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo’s string of intoxicatingly dreamy visuals, I was completely mesmerized by them. Blessed with an abundance of color coordination used to bring to focus the influence and symbolism of each respective character woven into the tapestry of this story, Palermo constructs a fantastical nightmare of epic portions, and does so while eliciting enough personality and three-dimensional flare to colorfully immerse ourselves in the fabric of this living, breathing world unraveling before our very eyes. On top of it all, it’s his use of lighting and shadow-play that cloaks the film in an ominous state of constant dread that most horror films never even come close to attaining, bringing to life a grim fairytale kind of enveloping that is second to none with any film released this year in terms of stylistic achievement.
– Production value. “The Green Knight” is easily A24’s most ambitious production to date, capping in every cent of its 15 million dollar budget with a balance of wardrobes, make-up, subtle computer-generation, and set design, which gives this world a very lived-in quality to its traditionalism. While that monetary figure isn’t a lot to big budget studios, Lowery and company exude it tremendously in ways that not only instill definition in the idealism between upper class royalty and lower class peasants, but also brings with it a modern flare to compliment the traditional garb most commonly associated with medieval times. The believability of the C.G work isn’t always fully believable, as seen with a talking fox that follows our protagonist to the literal ends of the Earth, but does bring with it consistency that feeds into the fever dream surrealism that hypnotizes our interpretation of reality, solidifying it and its other measures as ingredients that cohesively play into the bigger, bolder picture tickling our grandiose expectations.
– Audible entrancement. Whether in the work of longtime Lowery musical composer Daniel Hart’s string of evolving articulation, or the impeccable sound design echoing the heft and influence of these bigger than life characters on-screen, there’s an inescapably riveting plunge to the depths of the madness that Lowery prescribes to his audience, and its one that makes this feel as consistent of a project in every element of sight and sound that could come from the mind of one man. For the titular character, that involves an unfurling of branches and leaves that we only audibly interpret, immediately giving us a sense of the cycle of life that his character is meant to symbolize. As for Hart, I felt the moody, somberly set of tones that he works into the film not only were accompanied with the kind of respectful volume mixing to keep from overriding the dramatic work of the talented ensemble, but also outlined a three-act evolution that matured and grew more urgent the closer Gawain gets to his inevitability. It solidifies my single favorite musical score of 2021, and establishes Hart as a master craftsman, for the rhythmic trance of a spell that he constantly exuded over my ears.
– Interpretively challenging. As with a majority of Lowery’s pictures, there’s certainly a series of deeper themes and social commentary unraveling for our interpretation, and while I’m not fully sold that I have everything pieced together after one sit, I can say that my ideas make this a rewarding experience. For my money, “The Green Knight” character and film represents the inevitability of the cycle of life finding its way to all of us, and how we respond to such a challenge. For Gawain, it results in a series of five tests along the way, that, unlike the poem that the film is based on, he fails every single one of them but the last. This is made apparent with The Lady’s dialogue about why the knight is the color green, and in specific what that color represents in terms of the decay that it follows. On top of this, the film is a deconstruction of the nobility associated with knighthood, and how it’s not as truthfully honorable as centuries of books tell you otherwise. Here, it’s that royalty that is presented with disdain through the eyes of those it actually influences and effects, outlining those who seek it with a toxic ambition who are eventually seduced and betrayed by its luxurious wonderment.
– Diverse editing. At first, I was a bit taken aback by the unconventional aspects of the editing during the early scenes of the first act. However, as the film progressed, I found myself picking up on its subtleties, and specifically how it works in conjunction with the tone encompassed in each scene it supports. When there’s hope in castle and ensuing community, there’s swift cuts that are often used during montages in movies. These give a consistent approval to what’s transpiring, illustrating them as one cohesive unit reflective of what we’ve been told of knighthood before reality quite literally knocks on their door. From there, there’s soft fades during scenes of helplessness, trigger cuts during intense scenes of physicality, and even fades to black during times when the inevitable feels imminent. It can be occasionally distracting, but on the whole I love that it changes and evolves with the progression of what’s transpiring in the negative, giving us one more immersive example that mirrors what Gawain is experiencing and interpreting emotionally as his journey grows longer.
– Transformative performances. While not my personal favorite A24 film to date, I do cement “The Green Knight” as the quintessential A24 film for the casting of A24 all-stars that it brings together in its gifted ensemble. Before I get into that, however, Dev Patel is a tour-de-force as Gawain, cherishing a rugged physicality, chaotic charisma, and soulful eyes that window the internal struggle taking shape from within. Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina) performs double duty as two respective characters, harvesting two distinctly diverse sides of the personality coin that work smoothly with the sizzling chemistry that she shares with Patel. Joel Edgerton (It Comes at Night) is virtually unrecognizable, donning a beard, wig, and European accent that not only allows him to sink into the role seamlessly, but also presents a gentle hand that affords the audience a breath in between the roller-coaster of anxiety that makes up Gawain’s quest. Besides them, there’s scene-stealing turns from Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Kate Dickie (The Witch), and Ralph Ineson (The Witch), rounding out one of the more limitless depth supporting casts I’ve ever seen, and one that helps Patel to carry the load with him being in 100% of the scenes throughout the film.
– Body language. As for the various relationships and character dynamics sewn into the fabric of this story, Lowery trades in long-winded, heavy-handed exposition dumps on the complicated history of these characters for artistic metaphors and alluring visuals that take a psychological turn over a traditional storytelling narrative. For my money, this works tremendously within the beats of Lowery’s unorthodox dissection, toeing the line of consciousness accordingly with a series of fantastically frightening visuals that emit the nightmarish enveloping of the borrowed time that Gawain possesses with growing frailty. Its cryptic cohesiveness will present a polarizing factor for the audience seeking an exhilarating action adventure, but considering we have hundreds of movies depicting this centuries old story with brutality and loose definitions on the meaning of heroism, it’s nice to see a film that quite literally attacks it on a psychological level, trading in the elements of noble fantasy for an enchanting nightmare full of heft, circumstance, and overwhelming vulnerability.
– Literary homage. In attaining some of the authenticity that is quite literally lifted from the pages of its corresponding literature, the movie’s structure is pieced together with various chapters hinting at what’s to come in the corresponding minutes. This begins cleverly with a title screen that begins the movie by visually conveying “Knight Gawain In….”, and then following it up every twenty minutes or so with a fulfilling conclusion to the sentence. This not only allows the movie to further play into the grim sort of fairytale that is anything but traditional in the way its unconventional narrative unravels, but also elicits with it on-screen text that is presented with English font, giving the title screens more of the artistic experimental flare that Lowery contains in making this an other-worldly experience for contemporary cinema.
– Periodically slow. For my money, the biggest compromise to the enjoyment of the film, and one that will inevitably turn off a lot of people seeking a particular kind of movie that “The Green Knight” simply isn’t, is the methodical pacing of these drawn out sequences that will feel twice its length if you aren’t connecting to the characters. In my experience, even with my connection and investment to Gawain’s quest, I felt that a couple of sequences, especially during the early second act of the film, were unnecessarily drawn out in order to prolong the length of Gawain’s journey. It’s intentional enough, but did occasionally challenge me in unflattering ways that I wasn’t always rewarded on, making me impatient for the element of the quest to materialize during moments when the movie felt like it was on pause for longer than I would’ve naturally preferred. There’s no single scene in the film that I would cut, just those I would trim to accentuate the urgency in time that much of the movie’s structure is pertaining towards.
My Grade: 9/10 or A