Betrayal, revenge and historical accuracy are at the heart of Robert Eggers’ Scandinavian historical epic “The Northman”, starring Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe.
Similarities to other films permeate the narrative, but what makes “The Northman” excel is in its execution.
The action is fierce, the drama is engrossing, and the story unfolds at a relentless pace without losing a single plot beat in the process. It’s an exceptionally well-made simple story with awe-inspiring cinematography and performances that put the viewer in the mindset of the characters and the time period.
Skarsgard plays the film’s protagonist, Prince Amleth, son of King Aurvandill, whose birthright as heir to a small kingdom of Iceland is abruptly taken from him when his uncle, Fjölnir, kills his father in a attempt for the throne. Young Prince Amleth had just completed an ancient Norse ritual which includes an oath to avenge his father as part of his destiny and, after escaping his murderous uncle, he embarks on a lifelong journey to fulfill the oath he swore to his father.
After maturing into an adult and faking his return to Fjölnir’s new farm under the guise of slavery, he learns that his mother has married his literal uncle and even fathered another child with him; thus, the dramatic conflict is also subject to a moral dilemma.
If it sounds a bit like “The Lion King” or the famous Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, that’s because it is. The story is pretty straightforward, though there’s a twist towards the end of the movie that rivals some of the most famous in movie history due to the emotional punch it packs.
Nicole Kidman delivers a powerful performance as Amleth and Willem Dafoe’s mother steal the show in the few scenes in which he stars as the eccentric and mystical court jester, Heimir.
The film is full of beautiful and psychedelic visuals as it comes across as more of a dream than a story. Mantras are repeated, substances are consumed, and visions of Valkyries pervade the 137-minute runtime. It’s a feast for the senses, and the final showdown embodies all the aspects that make the film work as well as it does.
Historical accuracy is at the forefront. The story is set in 895 AD and it feels like you’ve been transported back in time seamlessly. Viking berserkers howl at the moon and chiefs of men are often disgustingly patriarchal in attitude, but what makes it all work is how well the set design matches the tone. Atrocities are committed without flinching even if it looks more like a circumstance of the time than a glorification of society. The film is a character study set against the backdrop of a brutal and bloody historical period. No detail is missed by the director’s visual eye and it shows.
If you’re a fan of the History Channel’s epic ‘Vikings’ series, you’ll be captivated by the captivating settings, heart-pounding action and suspenseful drama. It’s a character study of what it means to seek revenge, interwoven with slick visuals and a raw, raw aesthetic that hides nothing about what the period itself looked like.
If you like being transported to ancient times and seeing their customs, “The Northman” is sure to delight you.
“The Northman” is rated R and is screening at Marquee Cinemas, Galleria 14, Beckley.