The Northman by Robert Eggers [5/10]

A filmmaker with a strong vision, Robert Eggers creates movies that saturate the senses. “The Northman” is an epic tale of Viking revenge. Reveling in purported realism, no stone is left unturned in portraying the sixth century warrior communities in the Orkneys, Russia, and Iceland as animalistically savage, complete with grotesque deaths, men howling as dogs, heads lopped, women and children butchered, crows cawing, human sacrifices, and battles featuring insane men in furs or naked. If that description strikes you as mocking, it is not meant to. Eggers’s absolute attention to visual and sonic detail (wonderful dramatic music, roaring, spirits booming) compels attention, and I watched the two hours plus in a blur of squirming immersion. The plotline is all myth and angst, revolving around Amleth (it sounds like Hamlet although the storylines only slightly match) spending a young life of barbarity after seeing his father killed by his uncle and then plotting much-fated, horrid revenge. Alexander Skarsgård is superb as the beast-man-hero, Nicole Kidman serviceable as his mother, and Any Taylor-Joy luminescent at the resolving goddess-like love. All in all, I lurched out of the cinema expecting to rate The Northman highly but alas, a moment’s introspection curdled my judgment. For all its qualities and its keening desire to transcend the cartoonish tale, the film founders on patchy plotting, over-lurid scenes that teeter on the edge of parody (one scene had me expecting The Village People to emerge in song), and a gooey ending that swept away the thematic darkness. Intriguing and a must-see in many respects, in the end the result is as clumsy as a bullock.

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