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MOVIES: The Northman - Review



Robert Eggers’ The Northman is the latest film from the director of The Witch and The Lighthouse, this time – focusing on the Vikings in a story that borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, infusing it with a heavy dosage of Norse mythology. It’s a raw; gritty and incredibly personal revenge-fuelled odyssey of destruction and chaos brought about after Prince Amleth; on the verge of becoming king – loses his father to his Uncle’s treason, who kidnaps the boy’s mother. Escaping and vowing revenge – Amleth, now an adult – returns to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill his Uncle – in a blood-soaked quest for the ages – a quest that spans 137 minutes and on a scale of a historical epic not bettered since Gladiator – and out of the two – my money may well be on The Northman as being the superior film. It deals with the complexities of revenge and addresses Amleth’s burning desire for hatred in a way that isn’t glamourous but neither does it simply limit itself to a “revenge bad” theme - Eggers is far too gifted for such restraints.

The movie is more nuanced than that – much of that comes from the performance of Nicole Kidman as Alexander Skarsgård’s mother, in precious little scenes in comparison but makes the most out of them every time she’s on screen to the point where she plays a crucial role. Claes Bang – as Amleth’s Uncle; is an intimidating and ruthless character that feels like a real threat yet is given a human side – capable of matching Alexander Skarsgård in hand-to-hand combat. Anya Taylor-Joy adds an air of eccentricity to it all as Olga of the Birch Forest – and her journey is just as compelling as Amleth’s with a sense of agency of her own. Even Björk and Ethan Hawke make the most of their screentime in small; yet rewarding roles as the film divides itself into chapters and ranks up the body count as it progresses – tapping faithfully into Norse Mythology that almost feels reminiscent of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice more than anything else in the same medium.

The combat in this movie is visceral and raw – a village raid early on is a ruthless bloody spectacle that opens with a raiding warrior grabbing a spear that is thrown at him and hurling it back at the village defences. None of these characters are heroes here – Amleth’s quest for revenge is far from an idealised blood-free tale – the film quite easily puts him in a position as a potential villain. It’s the depth afforded too to characters like Amleth’s Uncle that makes it so compelling – the small; honed in cast gets the most out of Robert Eggers’ career of working with small, honed in cast – The Lighthouse only focused around two characters and The Witch around a small family. The Northman – despite its epic scale being the biggest of the three films. There’s a real sense of grand nature to it not just provided by its runtime – the 137 minutes fly by.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke - reuniting with Eggers after The Lighthouse - strikes an imposing landscape that rivals fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings and the vast; open-natured west of The Power of the Dog or the fog-covered highlands ofLamb. Blaschke doesn’t hold back from casting memorable shots that bring as much fantastical vividness to the world as The Green Knight, an Arthurian Legend reimagining that aired last year and was every bit as good as this gem – and backed by a memorable score from Sebastian Gainsborough and Robin Carolan, The Northman feels like a grand statement on Viking mythology.

In an age where television series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom have travelled this well-trodden road in conjunction with the recent video game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, those worried that there might be a deluge of Viking revenge stories told recently need rest easy; The Northman looks distinctively different from those works to the point where it might as well be a different genre and different again from the collective distribution company of A24’s filmography – proving how futile an effort it is to compare this to others from the same company and how varied their reach is – another reminder that they’re a distribution company and not a production one. Every second of this movie makes the most out of the $90 million budget afford to it – it looks exactly what you’d expect Robert Eggers to do if he was given the budget of a medium-sized blockbuster – and the result is a completely rewarding spectacle; one of the most original films of the year that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

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