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Review: The Northman (2022)

The Northman (2022)

Directed by: Robert Eggers

Premise: Set in first century Scandinavia, a king is murdered by his brother. The king’s son Amleth flees and is raised by a group of Vikings. Years later, Amleth returns to seek revenge.

What Works: The Northman is an extraordinarily bleak and brutal film but in a way that is appropriate to the subject matter. The film realizes the Scandinavian legend of Amleth (believed to be the predecessor of Shakespeare’s Hamlet) with great style. Filmmaker Robert Eggers previously helmed The Witch and The Lighthouse and like those movies The Northman has a coarse visual style. The movie has scenes of extraordinary violence but The Northman often feels hostile even in passive scenes. But despite its violence, The Northman is, in its own way, a beautiful film. It is an extraordinarily crafted and visceral viewing experience. The picture benefits from several impressive performances, namely from Alexander Skarsgård as the adult Amleth. Skarsgård has frequently projected a violent affect in other performances and he’s a natural fit for the role of a Viking but Skarsgård also projects sadness. There is a hint that Amleth is a decent person who has been forced to go savage by the demands of a violent world. Also impressive is Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic woman who becomes Amleth’s ally and inamorata. Taylor-Joy elevates the character beyond the niche of a love interest and the romance gives The Northman some softer emotional moments. Also notable is Nicole Kidman as Amleth’s mother. She’s not in the movie very much but she makes an impression, especially in the last half hour, that echoes through the whole movie.

What Doesn’t: The Northman is based on a Nordic legend but there is an occasional disconnect between the storytelling and the filmmaking style. The movie is mostly shot with a credible and realistic look. However, The Northman occasionally includes fantastic elements and surreal images such as witches and visions of Valhalla. These elements don’t quite match the realistic tenor of the rest of the film. The Northman is a story of revenge and typically in these kinds of stories the avenging character comes to some epiphany about himself or the nature of revenge. Amleth encounters some complications in the end but neither he nor the filmmakers seriously question Amleth’s motives. As a result, The Northman remains a mostly superficial experience.

Bottom Line: The Northman is a brutal but beautifully made sword and shield film. It may not delve very deeply into its themes but the actors inject nuance and humanity into their roles. This is a visceral adventure that’s been brought to life on screen with masterful craftsmanship.

Episode: #899 (May 1, 2022)