Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Northman - Review


The executive that decided to give director Robert Eggers $90 million for an epic viking revenge film needs to be applauded for this absolutely genius decision. Robert Eggers is a fascinating filmmaker, turning out haunting and period accurate experiences that are absolutely dripping with style. The Northman is no different, and perhaps features the director at the height of his insanity, proving that his mind truly works in mysterious and eery ways. 

The year is AD 895, on a frigid Northern Atlantic island, where the reigning King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) is preparing his son, Amleth (Oscar Novak), through a muddy, firelit rite of manhood. Aurvandil sees his own bloody demise coming, imploring Amleth to avenge him, an oath sealed by blood and the wonderfully weird Heimir (Willem Dafoe), destined to be fulfilled with gore and lakes of fire. 

From a narrative standpoint, The Northman should sound very familiar. It’s a revenge tale, a legend of a prince that’s direct inspiration for Hamlet, and the latest in a cinematic history of strong, vengeance seekers. It’s not a new or super original take on the template either. But the style of Robert Eggers and the commitment to its mixture of Norse legend, detailed production design and epic visual storytelling makes it stand out as more than just a derivative revenge flick.

An all grown up Amleth is played by Alexander Skarsgård, whose brutality and physique more than sell the anger, pain and general violence brewing in the heart of the tortured prince, quickly sets on his journey to kill the man who betrayed his family. Those who know Robert Eggers’ previous works know the intensity his films carry, and The Northman is no different, just on a vastly more ambitious scale. As the fated journey of Amleth continues, Eggers gets further and further into the weird, displaying his wealth of knowledge on film craft and swiftly turning conventions of the genre on their head.

So while the ending of this quest is never truly a mystery, the path to its conclusion often takes unpredictable, and often uncomfortable, turns. The violence is spattered throughout, never shying away from the unbearable death and destruction that lies in the wake of the characters. It’s the way of the world, an unending cycle of pain and fear that seemingly only gets worse and worse before an inevitably unexceptional death. 

With the Eggers’ prior experience in both production design and costuming, his films have become the pinnacle of world building in the most strange and macabre ways. The Northman is no different, presenting a world where his art film origins collide with his genuine flair for big, over the top Hollywood visuals, giving audiences nothing short of a cinematic adventure to the gates of Hel. 

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