In my opinion, Robert Eggers is one of the greatest filmmakers working today. He first cemented
himself a promising new voice with the release of his feature directorial debut The Witch, which
was a carefully crafted descent into madness set in 1630s New England. He then followed up
his career in 2019 with The Lighthouse, a claustrophobic horror about two lighthouse keepers
that get more and more insane with each passing day.
There’s something so incredibly discomforting and cold about his movies but you can’t help but
keep your eyes glued to the screen. Although Lighthouse is a difficult and uncomfortable movie
to watch, it’s easily one of the best modern horror films. Ever since those two films, I’ve been
eagerly awaiting Eggers’ next project to see what else he has up his sleeve. Now, we have The
Northman, an epic historical action film – something I honestly never would have predicted he’d
make, but alas, here we are.
I do want to get it right out of the gate and say that The Northman is without a doubt the
weakest movie in Eggers’ career thus far. It doesn’t have that creepy, lingering sense of dread
feeling that The Witch and The Lighthouse have. It’s also not a horror film. This is a sprawling
historical epic, and it’s a rather amazing one at that. From the moment it begins to the moment it
ends, The Northman is an enthralling revenge tale, and one that will keep you on your toes.
The first act of the film is brilliant. It feels unlike anything Eggers has done before while also
feeling exactly like the type of stuff we’ve seen from him before. It’s a warm welcome to the rest
of the story to come, and I feel like it’ll be even better upon rewatch. It’s in this act where things
get truly crazy and it’s going to be nearly impossible for you not to get invested after watching it.
Sadly, though, the second act is where things take a bit of a turn for the worse because here, the
film gets a little bit boring and the story comes to a strange halt. Things don’t move as smooth
and quick as they did in the first act, and there’s an awful lot of talking here that didn’t all need to
be included in the final, theatrical cut of the project. I’d say that a good twenty minutes could’ve
been removed from this movie and it wouldn’t have made a difference in the story at all.
Thankfully though, during this rather boring second act, we do have some things to be
entertained by, namely the performances all across the board. Alexander Skarsgård is
absolutely phenomenal in the role of Amleth, the protagonist of the story. All you have to do is
take one good look at his character to be intimidated and afraid of him. The entirety of the film
follows him on a quest to avenge his father, which is why it’s amazing that they cast Skarsgård
in this role. Just looking into his eye feels risky. He’s almost too good for the role.
There’s also Anya Taylor-Joy who gets a rather interesting role here, and one that gets fleshed
out extremely well. She previously worked with Eggers on the aforementioned Witch, where she
served as the lead actress. She doesn’t get as much screentime here, but it was certainly nice to
see her partner up with Eggers once again. But easily one of the most surprising performances
in the film comes from Nicole Kidman, who portrays Queen Gudrún.
Long story short – her role is shocking. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil anything,
but the things that the film does with her character took me by complete surprise and in all the
right ways. Seriously, I would be campaigning hard for Best Actor and Actress nominations for
Skarsgård and Kidman, respectively. Will it happen? No. But one can certainly hope and pray.
The film also looks truly marvellous, shot by the incredible Jarin Blaschke, who shot both of
Eggers’ previous films. Every single frame on display here looks stunning, and at the very least,
this movie should be nominated for best cinematography. It’s definitely the second best looking
film of the year for me, right behind Matt Reeves‘ The Batman.
Is The Northman a perfect movie? Absolutely not. It’s a bit too long, has a slow second act, and
some plot points are straight-up confusing, but it nevertheless remains a visually striking,
pulse-pounding revenge tale brought to life by Eggers’ impressive mind.
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