Here’s our review for “The Northman” as director Robert Eggers steps away from his more intimate work and presents a violent, revenge filled epic…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
Writer and director Robert Eggers built quite a reputation through his first two films — ‘The Witch’ and ‘The Lighthouse’ — with both films serving as relatively quiet, yet disturbing character studies that didn’t require much in the way of effects or an overly massive budget.
The genius in Eggers’ storytelling ability came across in the striking and bleak pictures he painted, which was only elevated from the strong performances he commanded out of the casts in both movies. The films were small in scale yet somehow large in execution because of Eggers’ meticulous methods behind the camera.
So it was somewhat surprising that Eggers decided to tackle a much more ambitious and action packed project for his third film with “The Northman” opening in theaters on Friday.
The movie serves as a revenge thriller set in the world of Vikings, who are all about bloodlust, killing and conquering whatever prey is in front of them in this fictional portrayal that also manages to drop in plenty of mindbending fantasy elements that will keep you guessing what’s real and what’s not.
Eggers is a master at atmospheric dread — and while there’s certainly still plenty to fear in this movie, it’s astonishing the way he’s able to shift gears with a much different style of filmmaking with “The Northman” but somehow still manages to maintain his personal touch throughout.
Much like his past two period pieces, Eggers is nothing if not fanatical about the research he does to truly understand the culture he’s seeking to put on screen and tackling the ice and fire running through the veins of his Vikings is no different. Eggers has said repeatedly he has no interest in ever telling a story set in modern times — and “The Northman” is another great example why he should keep his nose buried in historical books to continue finding his inspiration.
With that said, let’s get to our full review for “The Northman”…
It’s 895 AD when King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns home from battle where he’s reunited with his wife the queen (Nicole Kidman) and his son Amleth, who is the next in line of succession when his father expires. After taking a sword to his ribs, the King realizes that it’s time to prepare his son to become a man so he can eventually rule the kingdom in his place.
Sadly, Amleth only gets one more night alongside his father because the king is soon betrayed by his brother Fjolnir, who seeks to take everything from his sibling including the wife who shares his bed. Fjolnir also plans to kill Amleth to ensure his brother’s bloodline dies but the boy manages to escape, which sets him on a course of bloody revenge as he promises to avenge his father, save his mother and kill his uncle.
Years later, Amleth is a full grown is a powerful Viking warrior but he is soon reminded of his duty to seek vengeance against the man who killed his father and he’ll do anything to ensure Fjolnir suffers a gruesome death.
ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT
Let’s just go ahead and continue to praise Eggers for his writing and directing because both are done with precision in this film.
The script doesn’t try to reinvent the genre — it’s a revenge film at its core but Eggers adds plenty of layers to the conflict living inside Amleth as he’s consumed by rage and defined by the tragedies that surrounded him since the time he was a boy. When Amleth actually starts to feel something new for the first time perhaps in his entire life, he’s forced to reconcile with those emotions that don’t center around bludgeoning his enemies to death.
As for the direction, Eggers once again captures the brutality of this time period where man was as much a beast as any of the animals they connected with while going into battle. The dark grey skies, rain and snow representing Iceland for much of this film goes a long way to backing up Eggers’ vision for this Viking epic.
When it comes to the acting — it feels like “The Northman” is the role that Alexander Skarsgard has been waiting a lifetime to play. Skarsgard is a well-rounded talent, who sharpened his fangs during a seven season run on “True Blood” but he’s really stretched his muscles in recent years with high profile roles in series such as “Big Little Lies.”
In this film, Skarsgard plays to his roots while portraying a Viking prince with a thirst for vengeance on his breath.
Meanwhile, Anya Taylor-Joy turns in another starmaking performance as Olga — a Slavic sorceress captured and turned into a slave who works for Amleth’s uncle. Taylor-Joy has been incredible in just about every role she’s ever done but re-teaming with Eggers for the first time since her breakout role in his first film “The Witch” was a welcome sight. She steals every scene she’s in while proving yet again that she’s one of the best actors working in film today.
The rest of the cast really compliments these two including an unsettling performance by Nicole Kidman as well as Ethan Hawke during his brief appearance at the start of the movie. Willem Dafoe even returns after earning rave reviews for his performance in Eggers’ film “The Lighthouse” and he’s at his most manic in this film but that’s definitely a good thing.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
If there’s one minor flaw in “The Northman” it’s that the film does drag a bit during the middle with a few scenes feeling somewhat bloated. That said, the movie doesn’t really suffer as a result and if anything, it just sets up the dramatic conclusion as Amleth seeks to fulfill his prophecy that he would avenge his father’s death.
Everything is earned in this film even if it takes a little while longer to get there. Perhaps that’s just the desire to see justice done through every great revenge movie — remember it took Uma Thurman two whole films to finally get back at David Carradine in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.”
There’s no shortcuts in Eggers’ storytelling in this film even if the start and the finish are the really standout moments in “The Northman.”
“The Northman” is a brutal, relentless story of vengeance and a truly epic movie in every sense of the word. This is one of those movies to remember when award season rolls around because Eggers really is at his very best in what can only be described as his biggest movie yet.
“The Northman” gets 4 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale.