This Viking saga, full of gore and echoes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet(though admittedly THIS film is likely closer to the source material he used to write Hamlet), wants to take us on an epic journey through a tale of revenge. For some, I think the destination will never be reached while others will celebrate the journey in Valhalla.
Directed by : Robert Eggers
Cinematography by : Jarin Blaschke
Starring : Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman
Focus Features / Universal Pictures
Rated : R
This film was difficult, is difficult, for me. On one hand I left the theater feeling like I just witnessed something important, something I really enjoyed. On the other hand, I struggled to put into words just what I actually LIKED about this film… if anything?
I know, super helpful for a review right?
Here’s where I’ve ended up though.
Visually and from a cinematography standpoint, I loved this film. It looks amazing and coupled with the sound, this film is an absolute treat.
The film is full of beautiful, harsh and punishing locations that match the gore and violence happening on the screen in perfect harmony.
Let me back up for just a moment though, as I should probably give you an idea what the story is all about. Though, if you’ve watched the trailer you’ll know it’s a fairly familiar tale.
A young prince watches his father murdered by his uncle, his kingdom stolen, the prince goes on the run to survive. As an adult he has one thing on his mind, his life’s purpose is to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill his uncle. Driven by this, he becomes a terrifying berserker warrior that dominates any battlefield he finds himself on, including a disturbing scene in which he kills an enemy by tearing out his throat with his teeth… much like a bear or wolf would. They don’t refer to him as the “Bear-Wolf” for nothing I suppose.
From there he finds a way to follow where his fate leads, to the final battle with his uncle and the fulfillment of his life’s purpose. But not every story goes as planned. Life always has a twist, a wrinkle, added in to make things more complex. Fates and visions given by the gods always have a hidden riddle that is overlooked until the truth of the situation becomes clear. This story is no different.
The film does not shy away from violence or gore, in fact they are treated as part of everyday life for our characters. For every scene that has violence as the main focus, there are an equal number of scenes where horrible things are happening in the background or at the edge of the screen while something totally different is happening in the foreground. Disembowelments, slashed throats, and tons of blood are the normal for this violent people and in many ways it feels overwhelming and ever-present, while also NOT the main focus of the film.
The Northman toes a wonderful line between the supernatural and real world historical feelings beautifully as well. Many moments where the Norse myths and traditions are brought to life and fully accepted. A talking skull, animals communicating and helping people, witchcraft, even the Valkyrie bringing the slain to Valhalla. But it never points to these things as if saying “See, this isn’t just a standard Viking Warrior film, look at our MAGIC we’ve included!”. They are just part of life, and accepted for what they are.
I’m no historian, but this film FEELS accurate to Viking folklore. And for a work of fiction, whether it’s 100% historically accurate or not, if it FEELS right then it’s a job well done.
That being said, I can understand people viewing this film and feeling like they just wasted nearly 2 and a half hours of their life in a story that’s nothing too terribly original. However, even though the story is one that has been told time and time again, this tale is very well executed, well acted, and well told. There is nothing campy about The Northman, nothing that feels like it’s veering into Monty Python farce territory, and nothing that doesn’t feel brutally real.
With an amazing blend of visuals, sound, action sequences, and powerfully felt character arcs, The Northman takes us on a familiar journey with a slight twist and a whole lot of brutality. My only knock on the film is the way a few of the storylines conclude and an ending that, while very stunning visually, kind of left me unsure if I should roll my eyes or shed a tear.
As such, The Northman gets a 4 out of 5 stars.
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