Written by: Sjón & Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh
Taking the path towards seeking vengeance comes from a natural reaction response to a loss incurred from something unjust. On different scales, we’ve all experienced this even if we know better how that will not solve the root issue of the loss that occurred. When it happens in the context of an incredible action film, it does allow for some awesome moments and what we receive in The Northman definitely scratches all of the itches in the way it blends the sensibilities of an auteur filmmaker and accessible filmmaking.
After witnessing the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) needs to start life from scratch and he makes his intent for living very clear. He will stop at nothing to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang).
Carrying the basic plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet like many other stories such as The Lion King; in this feature, we get the application where it takes place in the era of Vikings. A time when extreme violence existed as a natural part of life and allows for some incredibly muscular men to show off their strength. Yes, all of the hallmarks one could want from a historically epic action/adventure film but this feature comes from the added feature of it being directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, which comes with its own set of expectations.
Coming fresh off of two of the most unconventional horror films in The Witch and The Lighthouse could certainly not be described as a filmmaker easy to recommend to others. He certainly tackles his films with a level of precision that tends to not match the sensibility of their typical film watcher, which he certainly has no obligation to do. It makes for wholly unique viewing experiences. With his third feature, he crafts something much more mainstream in its general composition but it certainly does not let you forget exactly who you are dealing with as a director as the visual flourishes he injects into this film as well as the mythology he weaves into the story in a digestible manner proves to be his biggest feat.
Eggers has always been meticulous in his world-building as he is with having two-word titles featuring “The” in all of them. His other features demonstrated a particular obsession with the reality of the language spoken between the characters. From the accent to the costume design, the man wants to make sure he gets it all right, and while many most likely cannot prove him wrong, what he manages to craft in The Northman heavily impresses. Integrating fantastical mythical aspects distorting reality allows for some trippy moments to throw off the balance and the conventional nature of the film’s plot. It makes the movie something worth watching even if we get the idea of how it ends from the start.
As a historical action/adventure film, this narrative allows for some incredible sequences that certainly add to the overall plot while presenting a treat for the eyes. A particular scene held at the top of a volcano absolutely stuns in the emotional gravity of the moment and how it gets captured in such a brutal manner. The word “brutal” may be the perfect way to speak about the violence occurring in the film. Not much of it can be considered flashy as it demonstrates the difficulty it takes in killing someone unless you are the size and strength of Alexander Skarsgård, of course. It very much matches the dreary and muddy world these individuals inhabit that maintains a sense of darkness even when the sun comes out. A dark world filled with malicious individuals that can only truly end in one way.
With this proving to be the film with the largest scope and wide-encompassing world, Eggers assembles his largest cast of superstars to date including some from his previous films. With the hulking Alexander Skarsgård serving as the lead protagonist who takes much of the spotlight, this feature comes littered with so many supporting performances that leave their mark. You have Willem Dafoe being absolutely deranged as one can expect with him collaborating again with Eggers on a second occasion. Then you have Björk with her impressionable scenes but the actor proving to have the most fun was Nicole Kidman who takes the matron-in-distress character and absolutely makes it her own. Her plot line goes in unexpected ways but it adds some unpredictability to the story as well as allowing her to chew up everything this role offers her.
While serving as his most accessible film thus far, The Northman also proves to be Eggers’s best work in his ability to create this world and craft his signature style in such an entertaining way. The muddy Scandinavian villages have a distinctiveness to them where you can almost smell them; they are that detailed. The tension continues to build throughout the feature leading to an inevitable showdown for Amleth to get his vengeance but the journey there ultimately marks what makes the feature so memorable as a whole. Trials and tribulations get put before Amleth before he can even get close to accomplishing the goal and it demonstrates once again what makes Robert Eggers such a fascinating filmmaker. It only continues to excite me to imagine what time period he will take on next to show its gross and malleable underbelly as he surely has a knack for it.