Walking into ‘The Northman’ this past Friday night, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’m honestly not a huge fan of medieval warfare movies. I think they’re usually pretty derivative. For the past 25 years, these types of movies have been made in an effort to be the next ‘Braveheart’. There are a few exceptions, but most of these movies are just dull, testosterone driven, blood-fests.
Luckily, ‘’The Northman’ is not one of those films.
It is a beautifully conceived/well-executed form of visceral story-telling. Robert Eggers continues to show why he is one of the best filmmakers out there.
‘The Northman’ is based on the ancient Norse legend of Amleth (which would eventually be the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Amleth (played by Alexander Skarsgard) as a young boy witnessed the murder of his father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) at the hands of his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth then flees his homeland, leaving his kingdom and mother (Nicole Kidman) behind. He vows to return one day to avenge his father and save his mother.
Years pass and Amleth is now a grown man and warrior. Amleth learns that his uncle, Fjolnir, was driven out of his family’s kingdom and has found refuge as a farm-owner in Iceland. Amleth disguises himself as a slave in order to gain passage to Iceland and work on the farm. From here, Amleth begins to lay out his plan with a slave-woman named Olga (Anya Taylor Joy). Together they plan to ruin Fjolnir’s life, save Amleth’s mother and escape together.
Visual story-telling can be an acquired taste
The presentation of this story is mostly done through visuals and emotion. Typically I’m not big on that type of story-telling, but it works tremendously well here. Essentially it is a visual fairy-tale. Dialogue and exposition are pretty light, but you understand what is happening the whole time. This isn’t going to work for someone who bought a ticket expecting to see something more akin to ‘Gladiator’, but if you’re willing to suspend your belief for two hours I think you’ll find it quite enjoyable.
The downside of this type of story-telling is that it may seem a bit muddy. Although the main storyline stays in-tact, there are scenes and moments that seem unexplainable. To me, there is never anything in this film that seems out of place or unnecessary, but it doesn’t follow typical storytelling tropes.
More shirtless Skarsgard, please…
Even though the movie doesn’t really rely on the acting performances here, it also doesn’t skimp on them either. Alexander Skarsgard has come a long way from playing Meekus in ‘Zoolander’. His supporting cast is Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Dafoe all at their best. Eggers uses these performances not to necessarily fill gaps, but to add authenticity to the film where an average movie-goer might feel uninterested or uninspired.
The acting truly does shine its brightest with Skarsgard. He completely transformed for this role and is down-right intimidating as a scorned & vengeful prince.
‘The Northman’ is a true visual masterpiece. It feels like every shot was meticulously crafted to hit your eyeballs just right. I would honestly buy “The Art of The Northman” coffee table book if it exists out there somewhere. On top of that, the score and sound-editing is insane. I felt completely immersed in the feel of this movie from beginning to end.
I can see where a lot of people might’ve been rubbed the wrong way by ‘The Northman’. It isn’t the medieval war-movie that it’s advertised to be and more of a Norse fairy-tale/fever-dream. For me it was a refreshing take on something I’ve seen 1000 times before. With incredible visuals, fantastic performances, and a reliance on fairy-tale story-telling as opposed to heavy dialogue and exposition, I feel like it’s a movie I could revisit many times in the future.
VERDICT: 4/5 Stars
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