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The Northman Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Eggers accurately captures the look and tone of Viking culture, while simultaneously delivering a tale that couldn’t be more bloody nor violent, creating a brutal epic!

Genre: Action / Adventure / Drama

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Gustav Lindh, Elliot Rose, Björk & Willem Dafoe

Run Time: 137 min.

US Release: 22 April 2022

UK Release: 15 April 2022

German Release: 21 April 2022

Eggers is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors, The Witch was a marvellous horror period piece, The Lighthouse a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience, and now we are blessed with a visual rendition of the Scandinavian legend of Amleth. Hadn’t it been for the reopenings of cinemas this year in Germany, and finally being able to see motion pictures in theatres again, I would have probably missed out on this entirely. It was thanks to the trailer previews, that this movie caught my attention So let’s talk about The Northman!

When Almeth’s father, King Aurvandil War-Raven, is treacherously killed by his brother, while his men plundered the kingdom, the young prince must flee his home country of Iceland to survive. On his way to faraway lands, he promises the gods that he will avenge his father, rescue his mother, and kill his uncle but the path he chose is one of pain, blood and dirt.

Just as with his previous two projects, Eggers managed to pack primarily a lot of atmosphere into the story. The film is filled with lingering shots of the scenery, winding up the tension before switching over to adrenaline-pumping battles, yet even then, the director never compromises on his unique tone. Yes, this is by far Eggers’ most action-packed picture, what's more, it is less character-driven than The Witch or The Lighthouse but his thumbprint is still all over The Northman and we should be grateful to have obtained such a visually stimulating Viking tale!

Meticulous historic research was done, to obtain a concrete feeling for the Viking age, wherein Eggers worked closely with the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, investigating different Scandinavian myths that could be used as the basis for the plot. The main saga used for this epic is the legend of Amleth, written by danish Saxo Grammaticus and a direct influence on Shakespeare's Hamlet. To develop the script further, other Scandinavian folktales, as well as Robert E. Howard’s fabled “Conan” were used as inspiration.

The end product is a bloody narrative that not only depicts life in northern Europe accurately but also pays respects to the mythical beliefs of those ages. However, at the end of its run-time, one might feel a little hollow, as the constant repetition of the character’s drive for revenge, starts to dull down the story-arch overall.

The dialogue, while scarce, is well-scripted and sounds believable. Old Norse, as well as old Slavic, was used for rituals and songs, with the main communication kept in English but rooted in Seamus Heany’s translation of Beowulf.

Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth is the lead character in this dramatic adventure and brings an immense physicality to the picture. He embodied the brutality of a tortured soul so realistically, it is without a doubt Skarsgård's best performance so far! This is why it hurts me to say that his character was a little one-dimensional. His whole life is only driven by the thought of revenge and when he gets a choice to leave that path, he finds new excuses to return to it. It would have been nice to see a little bit more personality.

Nicole Kidman plays Queen Gudrún, an intriguing character I would like to have seen more of. Nevertheless, Kidman gave another grand recital, even though the outcome of her character was easy to foretell. Ethan Hawke also gave a brilliant rendition of his character King Aurvandil, father of Amleth, even if it was a little too short. He had great chemistry with Oscar Novac, the child actor who played young Amleth.

Anya Taylor Joy, who made her acting debut in Egger’s film The Witch, plays Olga, a Slavic slave, serving as a love interest to Amleth. If Amleth is all brawl, Olga is the mind; just like the Viking prince, she also has revenge on her mind but instead of using force, she uses well-planned strategies. That is until she realises that revenge alone is not a path to salvation. This makes her such an interesting persona, as it is Olga that makes Amleth realise, if only for a moment, that his way will only lead to more pain. Taylor Joy was the perfect cast and she acted her heart out!

Danish actor Claes Bang represented Fjölnir the Brotherless with a brutish, yet human essence, unseen in a villain these days. Fjölnir is driven by his desire to be more than just the King’s bastard half-brother. Just like Amleth, he is trapped in a vicious circle of revenge and violence, which he managed to break free of for a short time.

The cinematography is world-class, with every frame looking sharp, yet feeling bloody and dirty. It lingers on sombre moments, focusing on objects or animals to give them a deeper, mythological meaning, before breaking those quiet scenes with a war cry, jumping into

immediate action. The battle segments were not only fantastically choreographed, but the camera also never cuts away, giving the audience a lot of gore to stomach. Finally, the lighting was on point, utilising as much natural light and shadows as possible to build mystery and tension.

The opening sequence reflects the last scene before the end credits roll, bringing the story full circle. Most of the movie was shot in Ireland, a perfect setting to depict Iceland in the 10th century, with the camera making full use of that; beautiful lingering shots of misty grass hills or steaming springs were used to full effect. Much work has gone into practical effects and costume design, recreating kingdoms, villages, as well as ships from that era, to make it historically accurate and mesmerising to look at!

The score itself is silent, virtually non-existent, before breaking out into a blood-chilling war chant that underlines the savage, masculine Viking era.


Verdict: Robert Eggers continues to impress with one-of-a-kind cinematic experiences and this epic revenge tale, while being his most generic film to date, is a masterclass of spectacle. The plot, inspired by a load of Norse legends, Shakespearian work and Conan fables, will split the audience's opinion without a doubt, as this is one of the bloodiest, most vile features released in theatres. One might declare it to be violent for violence's sake, yet I would argue that it is more of a true depiction of what life was at the time. That said, the constant repetition of revenge does get stale by the end of its runtime, which also dulls down the main character, no matter how fantastic Skarsgård depicted him. The acting is marvellous, the cinematography a real treat, yet it’s something I fear we won't see as soon again on the silver screen. I can only recommend you go watch this Norse epic, to make up your own mind! The Northman receives a well-deserved 9.5 out of 10.

Have you seen The Northman? What did you think? Leave a comment and if you like what you read, click on the subscribe button. Thank you very much for reading!

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