‘The Northman’ movie review

The first sign that not everyone in the 10th century Viking revenge story The Northman Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” Have Their Priorities Completely Clear appears early in the film, as Viking King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returns home to the North Atlantic kingdom of Hrafnsey after a year of battles. abroad.

After riding up to the snowy cliffside village, Aurvandil’s queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) greets him warmly and, after embracing her son Amleth (Oscar Novak), invites him to sleep with her. But Aurvandil says that he has something more urgent to attend to. Instead of going with his wife, he takes Amleth running around a burning cavern on all fours, clad in fur, half-naked, and barking as they shout oaths of honor with the court jester (Willem Dafoe).

Something is arguably rotten in Hrafnsey, even if we have a feeling that such rituals are the lifeblood of this culture.

Things quickly get worse. Aurvandil’s brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), slits the king’s throat, assumes control of the kingdom, and carries Gudrún on his shoulders to be his wife. Young Amleth, just a “cub,” as his mother puts it, escapes in a rowboat into an empty sea, vowing revenge.

Where are we, exactly? Right in the middle of the Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

But in this Viking “Hamlet” (Eggers wrote the screenplay with the Icelandic poet Sjón) Amleth doesn’t have an existential debate about his duty and destiny. He lives to take revenge. The next time we see him, he’s a ferocious, muscular marauder, “a beast wrapped in human flesh,” who would split most Hamlets like a wand. Amleth (a corpulent Alexander Skarsgård) is more likely to rip someone’s skull off than to have a soliloquy with a skull.

Once he gets fed up with doing rude Viking stuff (there’s a beautifully and brutally staged raid on a Slavic village), Amleth poses as a slave and hops on a boat to go to Iceland, where Fjölnir has moved his kingdom to Iceland. a green hill Among the members of his court is Anya Taylor-Joy, who previously collaborated with Egger on witch (“The witch”). Amleth takes up arms despite facing a sea of ​​problems.

There is a great method, but not enough madness in The Northman, Eggers’ third film and easily his most ambitious. With historical accuracy and ancient atmospheres, Eggers has already established himself as one of the most distinctive voices of his generation. His first movie witch 2015, was set among Puritan settlers in 1630s New England. His 2019 tape The Lighthouse (“The Lighthouse”) stars Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as lighthouse keepers who run amok on America’s Northwest Coast in the 1890s. All three films not only take their history seriously, they delve into nightmares past, or perhaps not so past. As stated at the beginning of The Northman“invoke the shadows of bygone ages”.

The recent trend toward folklore in movies can, in lesser films, seem like a movie version of the Paleo diet. But Eggers’ films maintain the potency of myths resurrected and reanimated, and in doing so have unearthed rich new territory. The Northman, with a reported budget of more than $70 million, is a larger, more archetypal canvas. With sweeping Scandinavian vistas and a finale set amid rivers of fiery lava on top of an ash-spewing volcano, it is forged in a powerfully primal fire.

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Although it’s a lean story, it doesn’t have as much meat on the bone as its ambition requires. Mythical simplicity is part of the point of The Northmanbut the film’s determined protagonist and his elemental conflicts are closer than ideal to the territory of Conan the Barbarian (“Conan the barbarian”). Eggers’ film is only intermittently charming and misses his climactic moment. Once Amleth returns home, he waits for just the right moment and the film seems to fill time with supernatural scenes and comically grotesque murders. For the first time, it feels like Eggers is trusting a pagan spectacle rather than psychology to drive the story, and the result is a séance that he doesn’t quite cast, despite his sincere efforts to do so.

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This could be attributed to the designs of a bigger budget production and the need to reach a larger audience, or to a movie instinct that seems to rely on howling, barking and screaming to capture something primal it can’t quite summon. The scenes with Amleth’s mother, with a passionate Kidman, come perhaps too late in a film that, after a long journey, begins to pull more dramatically on the masculine myth about which she preaches. Amleth’s vows are not an oath but a curse, proving another old adage: never trust Willem Dafoe.

The Northman, a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for bloody violence , sexual content and nudity. Duration: 137 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

‘The Northman’ movie review