THE NORTHMAN gets 7.5/10 Fate and fury

Directed by Robert Eggers

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman


What could’ve otherwise been a fairly standard meat-and-potatoes Viking revenge film has been given that Robert Eggers touch, who has combed over every detail of production to make this an authentic, enveloping, immersive, and bloody film that can sometimes be quite tiring, though other times quite majestic.

Essentially a Nordic version of Hamlet, a young Amleth witnesses his father, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) slain by his own brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth escapes being murdered himself, but swears vengeance. Years later, an older Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) puts himself on a path to find his uncle and kill him, even if he must become one of his slaves.

This revenge tale is quite plainly and simply laid out, and the film makes this familiar concept feel fresher by focusing on the details of carrying out such a vengeance. Though this does lead to the film feeling laborious with how it plots this out, with it delaying this gratifying revenge multiple times. But amongst this drawn-out story, we see a kind of spiritual-religious element to how these Nordics view their lives and the fate they believe they’re given, exposed in some astonishing moments of fantasy, whether they come about through a grand emotional moment or through psychedelic mushrooms.

The film feels very grounded and earthy, particularly how the characters, getting ready to battle, truly bring out the wolf in themselves (crawling on all fours, growling and howling). It’s hard to tell exactly where the film is going with showing man’s relation to animals (especially when the film is littered with all sorts of them) – it does feel there’s not the greatest tissue connecting these themes to the story, but just them being present helps elaborate the world of the film, and even gives some needed levity.

The Northman shares similarities to Eggers’ previous two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with its authentic setting-specific dialect, laboured production value, and an ultra-seriousness that easily crosses over into a strange kind of humour. He has not sacrificed much of his style in creating a bigger and more mainstream film, though there is something a bit more monotonous here that wasn’t evident in his previous films.

It’s still great to see such a talented filmmaker being given a huge budget, a big cast, and a healthy amount of creative control over it – even though it yields slightly less interesting results, it’s impressive to see Eggers’ vision that is deeply ingrained in every shot of this film – and most of those shots are quite astonishing.


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