Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Northman

Movie Name:
The Northman
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, Willem Dafoe, Gustav Lindh, Elliott Rose, Phill Martin, Eldar Skar, Olwen Fouere, Edgar Abram, Ingvar Sigurdsson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Writer/director Robert Eggers has returned after the well received and celebrated "The Lighthouse". "The Northman" is a passion project from its lead actor Alexander Skarsgard, and its narrative is based on the legend of Amleth, a medieval Scandinavian legend, who turns out was also a direct inspiration for William Shakespeare's Hamlet. The film follows the story of young prince Amleth in the 9th century. His father recently returned from overseas conquests, fears his time is at hand, since he was seriously injured in his last excursion. As he prepares Amleth to take over, even in his young age, he is betrayed by his half brother who murders him, and wants to kill Amleth as well. Amleth manages to escape and promises revenge. Years later, now an adult, Amleth is involved with a Viking group in taking over and pillaging small kingdoms. After taking over a village, he's warned by an oracle of what lies ahead, namely of his quest for revenge, what has since happened to his uncle and mother, and how his life is going to be tangled with that of a young maiden. Amleth sets a plan in motion, which includes pretending to be a slave and going to Iceland in order to fulfill his destiny. On his route he meets Olga, a young captured woman who claims to be a sorceress, and they eventually become slaves for his uncle, Fjolnir. Amleth bides his time, observing his mother who has since bore a son for his uncle, deepening his relationship with Olga, and setting his plans in motion. 
"The Northman" is a deeply immersive film, thanks mostly to the director and his production team who manage to create a fiercely compelling and gritty look, representative of medieval times. At a time where many TV shows such as "Game of Thrones" and even "Lord of the Rings", seem to have mapped out what is perceived to be the Middle Ages or something fantastical akin to that, this film opts for a visual that simultaneously tries to be more realistic, but also and personally, something that instantly reminded me of John Boorman's "Excalibur". The medieval legend at the core of the narrative isn't of course a profoundly different tale than many medieval revenge tales that have bee tackled on screen. What is indeed quite rewarding about this feature is Robert Eggers' point of view, one that combines a formal and distinctive aesthetic flair, with a cast that tries to embody these characters the best way they can. And while the story is indeed visibly and vividly brought to life, the fact remains that most supporting characters end up being sketches, while the female characters are for the most part largely flat and have almost nothing to do (Nicole Kidman's Gudrun has one moment in the entire feature, in what is her interaction with her adult son, whereas Anya Taylor-Joy's Olga doesn't even get that). The film largely remains focused on Alexander Skarsgard's capable hands, with the actor solidly illustrating both the ferocious warrior, but also the wounded soul and son, one who is trying to respect his father's wishes, but also one who wants to fulfill his destiny. While the antagonism between the main forces never truly crystalizes into something memorable, the narrative is nonetheless peppered with striking events and episodes. It's a beautifully rendered film, one that could have indeed benefited from some additional character development, but nonetheless one that is ambitious, and showcases Robert Eggers ability to draw good performances from his cast. The cinematography from Jarin Blaschke is wonderful, as is the production design from Craig Lathrop. Worth watching.