The Northman

The Northman ★★★★½

After The Witch and The Lighthouse, relatively small scale character pieces, I could not have predicted that Robert Eggers would deliver us one of the best fantasy epics of the last 20 years. With now three astonishing pieces of cinema under his belt, he has moved from the ranks of promising up and coming filmmakers to one of the great cinematic artists currently working. The direction on display here is nothing short of breathtaking as Eggers guides the camera through grand scale skirmishes as expertly as the more claustrophobic dialogue scenes. I fully understand after seeing this why he feels his direction in The Witch is rudimentary (which I personally don't see it as such since I love that film) as it's truly awe-inspiring to see his incredible development as a visual storyteller.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke crafts a gorgeous transportive painting of Nordic landscapes, mixed with thrilling mythology and ethereal imagery. There are countless jaw-dropping long-takes and naturally lit set pieces that are reminiscent of the best of Emmanuel Lubezki's work.

The soundtrack is easily my favorite of those featured in Eggers films so far, brilliantly raising the films visuals to even higher heights with its orchestral artistry. The almost deafening vocal chants used in certain moments are guaranteed to produce goosebumps.

This is one of the least bloated 2 1/2 hour films I've had the pleasure of seeing as there isn't a single shot that lingers too long or a sequence that isn't rich with narrative texture or plot significance. As a result of this, the film absolutely feels like its runtime, possibly even longer, just by the sheer amount of locations we visit and story we cover. Whether this is a negative, positive, or neutral side effect depends on the individual viewer. While being his most narratively straightforward work thus far, I feel as with his other films there potentially is an abundance of deeper meaning hidden within historical folklore and period-specific writing.

Alexander Skarsgård gives a career-best performance (out of the work I've seen from him) as he mesmerizingly encapsulates primal rage. Despite his lead character having sparse dialogue, he convincingly showcases an elaborate array of emotion through his face in each scene. Aside from his stellar work, the rest of the cast does what you come to expect from an Eggers production, which is deliver incredibly solid and period-accurate (as far as I can tell) portrayals.

There is one main con I would give this otherwise incredible achievement, and that is the use of a stock fart sound effect. Unlike the uses in The Lighthouse where it is part of the caricature of Thomas Wake, I felt it was jarringly out of place, and I seriously don't understand why Eggers is starting to make that a recurring trope in his films. Luckily, its usage was very early on in the film and so it didn't destroy any built up tension and investment developed throughout the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, its inclusion does hold the film back for me ever so slightly when thinking about it.

A film that should be experienced on the biggest screen possible, The Northman is hopefully another stepping stone in the stairway to filmmaking heaven for Robert Eggers' career.