Robert Eggers', director of The Witch and The Lighthouse, third film comes under the news that the studio may have interfered with the final cut. For what it is worth, The Northman feels like a $90 million epic with few compromises. While it doesn't always have the distinctly surrealistic narrative style the Eggers' previous films have, it is a cinematic vision of Viking madness rendered by a director in full control of his camera and cast.
Few films in recent memory have the scale of The Northman. It feels like the type of Hollywood epic that studios used to make, and yet it is weird enough to stand in its own circle. This is largely due to the intelligence of what is presented on screen. Eggers does his homework and it shows in every frame of the film that bursts with period-specific detail.
The Northman is based on Saxo Grammaticus's 13-century Amleth, which is the source for Shakespeare's Hamlet. There have been many variations on this story that have been brought to the screen but The Northman has a fresh presentation of this old material. This does mean that the narrative is familiar and the trajectory of the story is clear right from the first scene. For some, this may diminish the effect of the film but I found it comforting, allowing me to just revel in the stunningly staged scenes of revenge.
The film follows young Prince Amleth who welcomes his king father (Ethan Hawke) home from battle. Soon after that, Amleth witnesses his uncle (Claes Bang) murder his father and take his mother (Nicole Kidman) as his wife. He flees and grows up into the muscular form of Alexander Skarsgård and waits for his chance to avenge his father's death. Along his journey, he meets the mysterious Yorick (Willem Dafoe), has a vision of Björk as a witch, and finds a partner in his quest in Olga (Anna Taylor-Joy).
Eggers shoots many scenes in single takes, transporting us into this world of brutal violence and regular horrors of man. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke continues his work with Eggers and creates some truly jaw-dropping visuals here. While we may be prepared for the narrative arc here, the richness of this world and the incredibly emotive performances make some truly unique. Skarsgård gives a muscular performance that embodies the animalistic nature of blind revenge. Taylor-Joy creates a deep portrait of a woman smarter than everyone around her with Olga. Kidman proves in one scene here why she is in so many movies. She gives a memorable performance that borrows from her work in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.
The Northman is a brutal, beautiful, and surreal film. It feels less intimate than his previous film but sees Eggers flexing his skills by painting on a bigger canvas. The intense scope and ferocity with which he directs the film have created a memorable epic. Cherish seeing this in the theater because I doubt we get a big film as wonderfully weird as this soon again.