Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Director Robert Eggers has proven himself to be one of the most creative voices in Director Robert Eggers has proven himself to be one of the most creative voices in Hollywood today, directing two horrifying original stories to critical acclaim and a cult following. Both of his previous feature film endeavors, The VVitch and The Lighthouse, are just stepping stones to what could possibly be his magnum opus; a brutal Shakespearan viking epic.
As a boy, Prince Amleth (played by Alexander Skarsgaard) witnesses his father King Aurvandil (played by Ethan Hawke) being slaughtered and mother, Queen Gudrun (played by Nicole Kidman), be kidnapped by his uncle Fjolnir (played by Claes Bang). As a man, Amleth is a savage viking, pillaging and slaughtering communities of people for sport. But after seeing a vision of a sorceress, he remembers his vow of revenge against his uncle. He then journeys to Iceland in order to fulfill his promise of vengeance and save his mother.
What truly caught my eye in The Northman was its gorgeous cinematography. It was incredible how well-executed it was, as they gave multiple perspectives of characters simultaneously and followed action smoothly throughout the narrative. My favorite example of this was the tracking shot of Amleth’s gruesome siege of a village. He and his fellow Vikings wreaked havoc and it never felt disorienting or slow, it felt as if you were there with the horrors they were committing. It also led to some ingenious visuals as well, as director Robert Eggers leans more into the practical effects side of filmmaking, there are still times when it seemed CGI was necessary. The practical effects were so smoothly edited in at times I nearly couldn’t tell the difference, which led to some surreal and brutal imagery.
Along with impressive visuals, the script is very creative and has a heavy Shakespearean vibe to it. Now, I am not the first one to say that Shakespearean English is difficult to understand at times, but in The Northman it never feels incomprehensible; in fact it is quite poetic. This version of dialogue never felt out of place, and in fact felt like it took direct inspiration from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Until I found out that this film is based on a mythic Norse story that inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet (That’s your fun fact of the day). But its story’s themes are also hard hitting as they take a dark look at the toll of vengeance and the ties that bind a family together. The dialogue and the story hit hard and stick with you, and I have a feeling this film will be quoted for years to come.
Did I even mention the performances? Alexander Skarsgaard shows his savagery as our titular Viking, having what seems to be an inhuman physique with an animalistic dominance. But at the same time, he also shows a very compassionate and gentle side to his character as his quest for vengeance unfolds. We also got Nicole Kidman giving us initial damsel in distress vibes, until she reveals a malicious side to her that devastates our vicious protagonist and turns the story on its head. But possibly my unexpectedly favorite performance has to be Claes Bang as our villainous Fjolnir. He is first portrayed as an envious and power-hungry brother, but as the film progresses his motivations become clearer and more complex which honestly make us wonder if we want Amleth to get his revenge. While Anya Taylor-Joy is amazing, she feels underutilized in the story, and Ethan Hawke’s performance left me wanting more.
The Northman is a rare film that is as unflinching as it is engrossing. Its epic story and classical dialogue mixed with its visuals make for an unsettling yet rewarding viewing experience. With phenomenal performances throughout, Eggers direction from previous works fits seamlessly in this film and keeps his creative winning streak going. Ensuring that not only is The Northman a fantastic and vicious take on a Viking epic (even by Viking standards), but possibly Eggers’ best work yet.