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Review: The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight (2021)

Directed by: David Lowery

Premise: Adapted from the Arthurian legend. Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) has recently been knighted by King Arthur. Wishing to prove himself, Gawain accepts a challenge from the magical Green Knight on the understanding that he must sacrifice himself on the anniversary of their fight.

What Works: The Green Knight is a remarkable exercise in filmmaking craft. Every cinematic aspect of this film is excellent and it all comes together in a distinctly unified fashion. The production design has an organic and lived-in look that captures the difficulty and dirtiness of its time period. Much of The Green Knight has a grim, washed-out pallet but the film includes dashes of color in deliberate ways. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo mixes naturalistic and highly stylized images in a way that feels of a piece with each other. The titular Green Knight is a supernatural entity who is a combination of a human being and a tree and the look is convincing. The Green Knight, played by Ralph Ineson, appears to have been created through a mix of practical and digital elements and the effect is seamless.The movie also has an effective soundtrack. The score by Daniel Hart mixes elements familiar from this kind of Arthurian period adventure with unusual instrumentation and the sound mix supports the film’s eerie supernatural vibe. The Green Knight stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain and this is one of Patel’s best performances. He brings swagger to the role but also vulnerability and Patel fills in a lot of Gawain’s inner life without overly telegraphing his emotions. The dialogue of The Green Knight is also effective. It has the feel of an earlier era but contains the wit and humanity we’d associate with more contemporary dialogue. The Green Knight is also distinguished by the way it deals with knighthood. Like a lot of these kinds of stories, the hero goes on a quest but this story interrogates the values of Arthurian knighthood, namely honor, courage, and sacrifice.

What Doesn’t: The Green Knight is not a conventional sword and shield picture. This film has more in common with Valhalla Rising than it does with The Lord of the Rings. The film’s unique style is to its credit but viewers should go into The Green Knight knowing it’s an art film that doesn’t offer the thrills we usually get from Hollywood fantasy pictures. The film struggles a bit with its narrative. The middle of the picture is episodic. Gawain travels to his appointment with The Green Knight and encounters a series of misadventures. Storytelling is generally about escalating and unifying, with the character’s experiences building toward the climax. Some portions of Sir Gawain’s journey aren’t so obviously connected to his destination. 

Bottom Line: The Green Knight is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. The narrative isn’t as tight and the film requires patience from the viewer. But The Green Knight is a delight for those who appreciate filmmaking craftsmanship and it’s a unique entry in the oeuvre of Arthurian cinema.

Episode: #863 (August 8, 2021)