Written and Directed by Robert Eggers
Based on The legend of Amieth by Saxo Grammaticus
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
There is a grotesque majesty to most of The Northman one won’t see in series like The Vikings or even Game of Thrones. It’s grimy, cold and relentless. Somehow, by 900 A.D. they still haven’t figured out how to put a cover over a boatload of passengers going over the ocean. This retelling of the origin story of the source of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is not short on brutality, even to children.
Skarsgård plays the adult version of Amieth, a man hell bent on revenge for the death of his father King Aurvandill (Hawke) and the taking of his mother Gudrún (Kidman) as a wife. The purpotrator of this atrocity is Fjölnir the Brotherless (Bang), who immediately calls on his men to kill young Amieth and complete the extinction of his brother’s blookline while commencing with one of his own. Before he does this, Amieth escapes, grows up and ends up with a group of Berserkers. This band commits a brutal raid on a village on the land of Rus where the murder and mayhem committed make what happened at his home pale in comparison. It’s at this moment the viewer can be forgiven if they lost the thread of time that ties our hero to his past. Not to worry though.
A seer (Björk) reminds him through vision and sets him upon a course for revenge diguised as a prisoner heading towards the land of his father’s killer. While on the way he is recognized by another prisoner, Olga of the Birch Forest (Taylor-Joy) as an imposter. She does not stop him, and rather combines efforts with him in an elaborate plan to bring down Fjölnir
There are several players that one has seen in Eggers’ films, as well as many of the themes and color palates. The story is easy to follow, but the scenery is harder to digest than most historical dramas, even ones dealing with the harsh history of the Viking people. Skarsgård is chisled to perfection and his comination with Taylor-Joy is magnetic.
The plot for revenge feels a bit silly in retrospect. The first few nights work really well, but when it comes to striking the ultimate revenge, the film takes a turn for the ludicrous that makes the last 1/3 of the story feel ridiculous.
If the viewer feels drawn to the previous works of Eggers, they should find something to enjoy here. It’s too weird to bring in any sort of mass audience, but not quite weird enough to win the devotees of The Lighthouse. That said, the cinematography is sometimes astounding, while some of the imagery feels like a somewhat more sensible Mallick synapse gaps.
This might go better with a second viewing, but I am not so sure one might be ready to rewatch right away.
(***1/2 out of *****)