The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

Typically alluring and beautiful for a Robert Eggers film at this golden moment in his career, he’s really developed a skill for grounding the awesomely mythic through engineering a superb sense of place and scale. Every movie technically exists in its own world and plane of existence, but nothing looks or vibes quite like The Northman does. 

With one big caveat….

It’s an art-house drama that studio executives tried to edit into an epic action/adventure, and it ends up never finding its footing as far as pacing or tone goes. The middle act meanders and sags until the last act lifts it up at such a fast pace that the story whiplashes you into a state of “Wait, it’s already over?” Eggers insistence on long unbroken takes for the action scenes ensures they awe with the technical perfection of their blocking, but leave much to be desired as far as impact goes. He’s not a genre director, so of course he films them in the most unconventional way possible, but for such a simple story with thin characters at the center, a little bit of convention in this regard would’ve benefited it. The sequences are overwhelmed by the spectacle and don’t actually show the impact of Amelth’s (Alexander Skaarsgard) immense strength and ferocity. 

The Northman is a rudimentary tale of the futility of revenge set against the backdrop of Nordic culture, a thematic action movie staple, and when Eggers sinister pull is allowed to fully take form it’s mesmerizing. Whether that be Amult’s many visions of his inevitable destiny or when the camera emphasizes the metaphorical ghosts of his father and the North, the film envelopes you in its bitter and cold heart. There just isn’t quite enough of it. And here’s the thing: I love testosterone-fueled, R-rated action movies with threadbare stories, but that’s clearly not what The Northman was aiming to be. I’m sure this was in Eggers words, the “most entertaining version” of the film, and yet I’m sure there’s another cut that feels more complete. 

Beautifully mounted, well-acted (Kidman chews scenery like nobody’s business), and clearly still indebted to the artist that commanded over it, but I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if it didn’t feel like it was trying to serve two masters.

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