THE NORTHMAN, written and directed by Robert Eggers, is totally worth the hype. Brutal, raw, intense, and surprising, this is the exact kind of movie that you should make an event out of and see in theaters. Despite the film’s dark subject matter, if you looked at me during the screening I probably had a huge grin on my face the entire time because this is the exact kind of ambitious, exciting, beautifully shot storytelling that makes me a proud movie lover. I was constantly in awe of the long takes, gorgeous cinematography, and phenomenal performances from the ensemble cast.
Based off of a Scandinavian legend (and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s HAMLET), THE NORTHMAN tells the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a prince without a kingdom. As a boy, his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) killed Amleth’s father (Ethan Hawke) and took the kingdom and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own; Amleth barely escaped with his life. Now living in exile, Amleth is fueled by his quest to “Avenge father, save mother, kill Fjölnir.” Armed with the location of his uncle’s new homestead and the companionship of the clever Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth quickly realizes this task is easier chanted than done.
This story may seem familiar, but this is certainly not the HAMLET or LION KING that you may be expecting. There are many exciting surprises that are sure to shock you and make you think twice about this mystical, legendary tale.
THE NORTHMAN is one of the most cinematic, beautifully shot films I have seen in a long time thanks to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and the beautiful landscapes of Iceland and Ireland. Eggers is known for his attention to historic detail, so it was no surprise that he relied on natural light to frame each scene. And not only that, he added an even greater level of difficulty by shooting so many of the scenes in long, continuous takes. And these aren’t your average WEST WING walk and talk scenes, these were actual combat scenes with hundreds of actors and elements. If just one element failed, the whole scene would have to be canned. At times it was difficult for me to even pay attention to the story because I was so overwhelmed by what Eggers was doing behind the camera. This is movie making at its finest.
Not only is the film beautifully shot, but the performances showcase actors at the top of their games. It is clear that THE NORTHMAN is Skarsgard’s passion project and I have never seen him more perfectly embody a character. Everything from his slouched posture to the growl of his voice shows Amleth has endured unimaginable trauma, which has worn on him throughout the years; his rage and fury threatening to spill over at any second, in any interaction or battle.
Skarsgard’s chemistry with Taylor-Joy is another highlight of the film and is going to be one of my favorite on-screen ships for years to come. Taylor-Joy brings the brains to Skarsgard’s brawn and the two make an incredible duo. “Your strength breaks men’s bones. I have the cunning to break their minds,” says Olga. Like I really need another reason to fangirl over Taylor-Joy. How she can go from projects like THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT to LAST NIGHT IN SOHO to now THE NORTHMAN proves she is one of the most talented and versatile actors working today.
And of course, I cannot end this review without talking about the queen (literally and figuratively) Nicole Kidman. I should never be surprised when Kidman knocks it out of the park because she has been doing so for over three decades now. But when I, a Nicole Kidman subject matter expert, tell you her performance in THE NORTHMAN is one of her best and most surprising roles yet, believe me. I was floored by her multi-layered character arc that, without getting into spoilers, kept me guessing the entire time. Her character is the catalyst of the entire film and I am excited for people to see her in such a different role. When leaving the theater after the film, a group was gathered around THE NORTHMAN poster shocked that it was Nicole Kidman in the role and that they hadn’t realized it. Now, do I think it is insane that they didn’t recognize her onscreen? Yes, but that just shows how different this role is from how regular audiences perceive her and I am here for it.
THE NORTHMAN is an intense, nail biter that is going to leave a lasting mark on the epic period war drama. While it is certainly not for the feint of heart, I find it hard to imagine seeing this movie as anything less than an entertaining cinematic epic. If the trailer spoke to you at all, make some time this weekend to support a movie that proves why the cinematic experience is alive and well.
My Review: A