I’ve waited for The Northman for months, ever since I saw a poster for the film at the theater. I was riveted, especially by the incredible cast, Alexander Skarsgård, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Defoe. Then the first trailer came out, and it looked intriguing a true Norse saga. I hoped it was as brilliant as the trailer, and I was not disappointed. Instead, the film was full of powerful performances by a brilliant cast, epic Norse drama with Shakespearian overtones, and an immersive story.
The Northman is an epic historical action film directed by Robert Eggers and written by Eggers and Sjón. In the movie, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns to his kingdom on the Irish Coast from his conquests overseas and is greeted by his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and his heir Amleth. Aurvandil, with the help of a male witch, Heimir (Willem Dafoe), has his son participate in a Norse spiritual ceremony to bestow adulthood on the boy. The king is soon betrayed by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who betrays him and kills him, taking Gudrún as his wife while Amleth escapes death at the hands of his uncle. Years later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), a Viking warrior, is visited by a witch, Seeress (Björk), who recalls him to his vow to avenge his father. Amleth tracks down his uncle, joining forces with a sorceress Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), to take his vengeance. But will he choose love or revenge in the end?
This movie begs the audience to immerse themselves in the action and story. Based on medieval Scandinavian legend, the story is also believed to be the basis for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The overarching themes are undoubtedly reminiscent of that tale, honor, and revenge for the death of a father. I find this portrayal far more complex and intriguing, allowing for human dynamics and the reality of the time period to affect the characters’ actions, especially Amleth’s mother, Gudrún. The movie is an epic adventure of revenge with all the drama and bloody action you would expect. Amleth is expected to embrace his destiny but is also told he has a choice; he can choose revenge or choose kindness to his family. While the ending is what you would anticipate, the choice is not as straightforward as one would think. And the level of action combined with the complex drama makes for an interesting film.
For this movie, details matter, and no detail is too small. The clothing and homes are all authentic for the period. The film is set up like an ancient Norse Skald or poem, like one of the sagas of the culture. The culture and mores of the time are well researched, including the games the people would play and how they would treat their slaves. The rich mysticism and belief in gods are infused into the story, realistic to the time and critical to the characters’ choices. Even the language choices are respectful and well-chosen, not only the Scandinavian language but the accents that the speakers might have in English. From the spiritual rites and visions to the history, all have been considered and well-chosen.
The action is part of the heart of the film. Without believable fights and weapons that fit the time, it would not be as easy to immerse yourself in the story. Alexander Skarsgård carries himself like a Viking warrior, even wearing slave clothing. When he battles, there is none of the chivalry and all the brutal practicality such a fight would have, as he has no compunction in using every tool he can to get his revenge. His honor is all about respecting his vow to his father to avenge his father’s death, and he does everything that he can to succeed. The fighting well enhances the drama and story. And when the battles happen, they are impactful visually and bring a visceral element.
This is a film with an all-star cast, and it shows. There are no false beats, and all the performances excel. Alexander Skarsgård imbues his character with grittiness and strength and gives a powerful performance. Ethan Hawke is strong as King Aurenvald. Nicole Kidman gives a profoundly emotional performance that I think will change the way audiences perceive the character of Gudrún. Claes Bang is superb as Fjölnir giving us a complex portrayal of Amleth’s uncle. It is epic. Anya Taylor-Joy has a performance befitting her character, full of strength and emotion. I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite among them.
If there is anything to pick at in this immersive and strong film, it is that it is predictable. You do realize quickly what Amleth plans to do, and while there are some surprises in how it all is put together and how it happens, the result is pretty much what you think will happen. It also has some oddly slow moments for an action film and could have lost some time without losing its story. It also has a couple of strange choices in details, especially in the vision of the Valkyrie that Amleth experiences, but while those couple moments will drop you out of the overall experience, you can quickly immerse yourself back into the story.
If you love Norse mysticism and culture along with Shakespeare, this will be a dramatic ride. It has a stellar cast with powerful, emotional performances. It has the story of Hamlet but with new and unique perspectives and is set in an authentic time and place that resonates with realism and grit. It is a genuinely dynamic, mesmerizing film. I found it highly engaging and entertaining.
Rating: 4.5 ravens out of 5
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Young Prince Amleth is on the cusp of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy’s mother. Fleeing his island kingdom by boat, the child vows revenge. Two decades later, Amleth is a Viking berserker raiding Slavic villages, where a seeress reminds him of his vow: avenge his father, save his mother, kill his uncle. Traveling on a slave ship to Iceland, Amleth infiltrates his uncle’s farm with the help of Olga, an enslaved Slavic woman — and sets out to honor his vow. From visionary writer-director Robert Eggers (THE WITCH, THE LIGHTHOUSE) comes an immersive Viking epic like no other featuring an ensemble cast including Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Björk. THE NORTHMAN opens in theaters Friday, April 22, 2022.
ONE-LINER: From visionary director Robert Eggers comes THE NORTHMAN, an action-filled epic that follows a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father’s murder.