‘The Northman’ is a brutal, beautiful and bizarre Viking epic | movie reviews

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Some movies leave you exhausted after watching them. Not tired because they were so boring, but physically exhausted by the intensity and ruthlessness of the subject matter. Think ‘Schindler’s List’ or ‘Requiem for a Dream’ – excellent expert-led productions with an outstanding cast, but you probably won’t watch them more than once.

It’s the type of film audiences get with “The Northman,” the latest from writer/director Robert Eggers, whose previous outings “The VVitch” and “The Lighthouse” are indie gems with unique visions and narratives. in layers.

Now, with a much larger budget and greater scope, Eggers takes his penchant for bizarre, uneven, and often hypnotic storytelling and makes a Viking epic. “The Northman” is something halfway between Cecil B. DeMille and David Lynch and, thankfully, just as good.

However, this film will not appeal to everyone. Not only is it brutal in its depictions of sex and violence – these are 9th century vikings, after the gathering – but the mix of realism, metaphor and fantasy to tell the story more like myth or a legend rather than an action movie can be exhausting. try to follow, understand and reflect on what is happening on the screen.

Critically and technically, “The Northman” is a wonderful piece of cinema, an auteur taking something very old and making it fresh and exciting in his own way. I hope audiences will take it kindly, but I doubt it’s the blockbuster it deserves to be.

Circa 900 AD in Scandinavia, young Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy’s mother, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman). Amleth has no choice but to flee.

Two decades later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is now a Viking who attacks Slavic villages. After a raid, Amleth soon encounters a Norse prophet who reminds him of his vow: to save his mother, kill his uncle, and avenge his father.

Claiming to be one of the slaves captured en route to the kingdom of his uncle and mother, Amleth and another slave, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), begin planning a way to reclaim the kingdom and fulfill their destiny. .

If the story sounds somewhat familiar to you, yes, it’s “Hamlet,” except it would be more accurate to say that “Hamlet” is an adaptation of this 13th-century Norse legend. Either way, it’s a familiar tale to much of the western world, and the way Eggers and the film’s co-writer Sjón, an Icelandic poet, adapt the thousand-year-old poem to stay true to its roots are welcome. While not pure fantasy, ‘The Northman’ is full of Norse visions of Odin and Valkyrie and imagery one would imagine hearing an old myth told rather than a historical document. .

That doesn’t mean the movie gets uncomfortably real at times, especially during its action scenes, which don’t happen often but are all the more effective when they do. Rather than cutting the edit to hide the brutality, Eggers’ action scenes frequently use long, even takes that show razor-sharp swords, piercing arrows, and smashing heads without glorification or mercy — just the violence that people of this world had to endure.

And yet, it is curiously one of the most beautiful films of the year. Not so much the graphic stuff, but in the lingering takes of the Irish countryside in Iceland, there’s beauty everywhere. Yes, the kingdom and its buildings are beyond dirt, but the mountains, forests, volcanoes and more are breathtaking, towering over Vikings and Norse.

Because it’s a retelling of a myth and the origin of one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, all performances look like this – performances, actors performing a play. Their actions feel most at home on a stage and their lines fit an epic poetry reading, yet it works perfectly here.

At the time of this writing, “The Northman” has made around $25 million off a $90 million budget, a bad sign for moviegoers who enjoy this type of production. Whether it’s too adult for the masses or too weird for the average Joe who sees five movies a year is hard to say, but it’s definitely worth seeing at least once.

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