Directed By Robert Eggers
Starring – Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang
The Plot – Prince Amleth (Skarsgard) is on the verge of becoming a man when his father (Ethan Hawke) is brutally murdered by his uncle (Bang), who kidnaps the boy’s mother (Kidman). Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who’s on a mission to save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity
“The Northman” is a gritty and grueling spectacle of Nordic mythology, made all the more entrancing with Eggers’ signature style at the forefront of his most ambitiously bold and immersive production to date. Encased inside, Eggers uses every single cent of his 90-million-dollar budget to cement authenticity in the experience, engaging us with evocative visuals of the most thought-provoking variety that channel immensity in the realm of their grandiose scale. Whether in absorbing interpretations of picture-perfect framing, the value of on-site shooting locations, single take shots persisting in and around extensive devastation, or even just Jarin Blaschke’s impeccably weathered cinematography, everything here feels meticulously purposeful and expertly crafted, proving Eggers to not only be one of the very best visual storytellers going today simply for his grasp of the material, but also in offering a completely transformative experience that downright begs the cinematic treatment on the biggest screen possible. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that this is a revenge thriller in concept, but anything other than that thematically. Instead, “The Northman” is very much a story about belief, legacy, destiny, fate, the confines of traditionalism, but especially the weight of each of these carry in the next occupier of the throne. Themes this hefty and circumstantial could easily carry with them an alienating screenplay for boldness alone, but Eggers ties accessibility and understanding to each of them, fleshing them out with a thoroughness in gratifying dialogue that works cohesively with the magnitude of experiences it’s showing us, instead of just virtually spelling everything out. Because of such, the story never feels convoluted, and the characters never feel one-dimensional, instead valuing both for the pivotal roles they play in fleshing out a story this monumental. Speaking of those characters, the performances sprung from such are simply remarkable, beginning with the physicality and commitment of Skarsgard channeling something animalistic in the wake of his vitriolic devastation. Countering this is Anya Taylor-Joy’s work as Anna, who brings an endearing warmth and vibrancy of hope to an otherwise entirely bleak and desolate situation, preserving her as the beacon of light not only to Amleth, but also to the world destructing in the backdrop, which feels overrun with the lust and greed that plague and influence its people. But in a bad world, it’s a bad man who dominates, and Claes Bang is such a captivating presence with a cold blankness in stare that not only conveys the emptiness from within, but also the carelessness that persists in such devious actions in taking everything he wants without a shred of momentary concern from those who suffer. Finally, while Eggers is the Most Valuable Player of everything aforementioned, composers Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough make the case as silver medal finishers with my single favorite musical score in 2022. Considering these two have a barebones platitude of experience between them as cinematic composers, the variation in emotion that they continuously supplant to such richly evolving tones of inspiration, internal longing, and sentimental affection grow more complex with each passing variation, managing to elude repetition in ways that breathe new life to the unraveling of the compositions, while injecting adrenaline to the tangibles of the conflict persisting on-screen.
Though the 129 minute run time never tested my patience, thanks in whole to the consistency of the story’s smoothly digestible pacing, there were a couple of dynamics that I wish the film spent more time fleshing out a deeper sense of meaning from what the conflict is pulling from. Most ideally is the bond between father and son, which here is only given one scene to grow before tragedy strikes in the very first scene of the movie. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a film that gets the conflict off and running right away, just rather that I didn’t feel the magnitude of this particular tragedy climaxed as strongly as it could’ve with more interaction between them. In addition to this, the film’s second half gives way to a blossoming love angle between Amleth and Anna that, while believable because of the impeccable chemistry that Skarsgard and Taylor-Joy share, did deserve more time developing, as its arrival felt forced at the particular moment it materialized. For my money, I wish the film spent an extra ten minutes developing each of these dynamics, especially after a late third act flashback scene that added nothing to the narrative in the foreground of the story, found its way into the final draft. If you took this scene out and added another ten minutes to the film, you could’ve easily registered these relationships to peak form, but as it stands they’re only important because the film demands them be, and not because of experience.
Robert Eggers Viking revenge epic, “The Northman”, completes a hat trick trio of films as good as any directors over the last ten years, and does so with an influentially justified budget that dazzles us with spell-binding visuals and bludgeoning brutality of the most hypnotic variety. It’s a testosterone fueled frenzy that obscures the line between fantasy and reality, all the while maintaining a grip on the honesty of its mythology that other adaptations simply can’t touch.
My Grade: 9/10 or A