Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Björk
A trip through director Robert Eggers’ filmography will be most useful for those experiencing his work for the first time. A word to the wise — marketing Eggers films to mainstream audiences is tricky, so his trailers are cut to sell you something you think you are familiar with.
His debut “The Witch” was not a typical horror film; despite discovering Anya Taylor-Joy, it was divisive for fans of the genre. His second feature “The Lighthouse,” a black-and-white two-hander with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, was even more alienating for viewers. Having viewed his previous films will prepare for what “The Northman” ultimately is and what it is not. This is easily Eggers’ most accessible and mainstream film yet, combining elements from both previous films into a slightly more straightforward narrative.
Witnessing his father, The King’s, death at an early age, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) flees his homeland in 895 A.D., vowing to avenge his father, rescue his mother (Nicole Kidman) and kill his uncle (Claes Bang). Amleth grows into a mammoth fighter, eager and willing to fight anyone in his path. His ideal revenge doesn’t arrive the way he prefers, and the things he thought he understood as a child turn out to be vastly different as an adult. Amleth teams with Olga (Taylor-Joy), who can conjure elements with her mind. With violence at the end of every decision, Amleth, like his father, must between choose past and present.
Eggers’ script isn’t interested in the least whether audiences feel uncomfortable, in most instances leans in to pushing our limits.
Eggers is most often referred to as a visionary, because all three of his films represent a particular style that’s distinctly his own. With “The Northman” he is working with a lager budget and a bigger palette, but his style remains the same. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography on location in Iceland is a real treat, and likely what you will remember most. From nature to wardrobe, neutral colors cover everything — red being the only contrast. The fight scenes are brutal, gory and without mercy. The spiritual nature of the film, séance, sacrifices and sexuality are both based on Viking history and archeological discoveries. Eggers’ script isn’t interested in the least whether audiences feel uncomfortable, in most instances leans in to pushing our limits.
Skarsgård’s performance is mostly all physical brute and brawn. Ethan Hawke’s appearance in the first act sustains his memory throughout the two-hour-plus film. Willem Dafoe and Björk offer vividly eccentric cameos. Oscar winner Kidman has the most diverse performance of the cast. The biggest marquee draw, she doesn’t disappoint. Adjusted expectations will make “The Northman” more agreeable. This is not the Viking shows you watch on television and don’t expect to see “300” under a different name either. “The Northman” isn’t the best film of the year, but it’s a unique experience that’s better than what we usually get in spring.
Eggers’ distinct vision will thrill some, offend others, but ultimately offer an experience you won’t soon forget.