The Northman ★★★
Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke
Based around the same ancient tale as Hamlet, The Northman sees Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) witness the brutal murder of his King father by his uncle, who subsequently kidnaps his mother. Two decades later, Amleth returns to save his mother, avenge his father and kill his uncle.
The director, Robert Eggers, has made a huge impression on the movie industry in the last few years with his most recent, The Lighthouse, being a claustrophobic, eery and sometimes humorous look into the human spirit. His films are rugged and tap into an ancient spiritualism that we seem to have at our core.
For The Northman, although the story is relatively straightforward, the scale is vast. You can feel the ancient history pour out of every shot and it is breathtaking to behold at first. An early one-shot scene sees Prince Amleth and his Viking army raid a town in a bloody, brutish and visceral fashion. Seeing Amleth climb a wall with just his axe not only highlights how far I have to go with my body building regime, but it sets the tone early on that this movie is not messing around.
The cinematography then is earthy, gritty and epic. The feel of the story is paeanistic, eery and brutish. As the movie progresses in to its second and third act though I started to have some issues with it.
The main problem I have is that there is no light to the story. This movie is dark, and not in 'that episode of Game of Thrones in the final season way'. This is over two hours of screaming, shouting and heads rolling on the floor. By the final half an hour I was out of energy. I needed an episode of Friends and a bag of Haribo. Not that every movie needs light moments, but this'd no let up and so, coupled with its intensity, I lost the will to care about the characters.
Furthermore, going back to the simplicity of the story, the plot is one of revenge and there is a sense that the revenge would be quite easy to resolve. Without giving anything away, Amleth takes his sweet time about things and so again, the tension and care we have built up around the characters is gradually lost.
The look and feel of this film far outweighs anything else this has going for it. The commitment of the cast is admirable, and Robert Eggers should be commended. But for me, this is more style than substance.
The Northman available in cinemas now