Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe, Gustav Lindh, Elliott Rose, Phill Martin, Eldar Skar, Olwen Fouéré, Edgar Abram, Jack Gassmann, Ingvar Sigurdsson
Written by: Sjón, Robert Eggers
Directed by: Robert Eggers
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity
Running Time: 137
Date: 04/22/2022
IMDB

The Northman (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Due Norse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It doesn't seem easy to make a good Viking movie (as witness Pathfinder and other duds), but filmmaker Robert Eggers really steps up with this powerful saga, full of passion, rage, and dark fantasy.

It's the year 895, and King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns home from a long voyage to his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and young son, Amleth (Oscar Novak). The King's brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) arrives and betrays him, assassinating him in a sneak attack. Amleth witnesses his mother being kidnapped and flees, vowing revenge.

Years later, he has become a fearsome Viking (Alexander Skarsgård). When he encounters a witch and learns the location of Fjölnir, he disguises himself as a slave and boards a ship for Iceland. He meets a healer, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and forms an unexpected bond with her.

Forced to labor on a remote farm, Amleth meets another witch and is told the location of a magic sword. With the sword, Amleth begins to execute his revenge, killing Fjölnir's men one by one. But before he battles Fjölnir himself in a fiery showdown, Amleth must face a terrible truth, and make an impossible decision.

As with his remarkable debut feature The Witch, Eggers seems to have poured a ton of research into The Northman, as well as teaming with the veteran Icelandic writer Sjón (Lamb), to capture an eerie authenticity, like being transported back in time, rather than watching actors in costumes.

Even though there's actually little going on here outside of a revenge plot, the movie has weight to it, something at stake. It feels like it was crafted by people with pride in their craft.

Recalling David Lowery's entrancing The Green Knight, The Northman switches with ease from earthy battle sequences slippery with mud and gore to unreal sequences of witches or valkyries, all belonging to the same world.

Yet as he proved with his previous movie, The Lighthouse, Eggers is equally skilled with actors and characters. The performances here are all impressive, but Kidman in particular can be so ferocious and startling that her work may feel like an actual sting.

As for the over-arching revenge plot, it does take 137 minutes to march toward the inevitable. But once it gets there, it does so with a surprisingly primal, visual palette, and it also manages to show the act as an exhausting, ever spiraling curse without end.

Universal's excellent Blu-ray release offers an excellent visual and audio transfer, as well as a bonus DVD and Movies Anywhere digital copy. Director Eggers provides a commentary track, and there are deleted scenes and a half-dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes. Recommended.

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