The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

Eggers is clearly a dude with a clear storytelling flavour. THE NORTHMAN is another film of dark, isolated, folklore-rich beauty. This big-budget effort is all about the world of Vikings. Conan masculinism and other such one-man medieval warrior epics are the inspiration, but this is every bit Eggers’ film.

As awestruck as I am by the visuals and the film’s ability to transport me back in time 1400 years or so to a truly gloomy time and location, I really find it hard to latch onto character or plot. It’s a wickedly ‘cold’ film. Alexander Skarsgard does a commendable job in portraying a unique Norse revenge-obsessed character. My parents used to continually tell me to “watch my posture” and not “slouch with my shoulders rounded.” Little did they know that if I’d continued to do so, and I had worked out a bit, I could have started in THE NORSEMAN. Skarsgard is an imposing presence, but his limited humanity and the film’s languid pace doesn’t really rope me in. The deliberate, moody, and detailed filmmaking doesn’t carry the same power as THE LIGHTHOUSE where the images were steeped in symbolism or something like Malick’s THE NEW WORLD which drills down to punctuate the nature of living in the old world’s harsh limitations. THE NORTHMAN is ultimately an action movie parading around as a poem and lesson in medieval Norse history. It’s a beautiful film in a foggy gloomy way—steeped in violence, dreamlike imagery, and period realism. It’s just not one that entices me to care about the outcome or revisit the film anytime soon.

I love the craft here. I guess I’m just not on Eggers’ wavelength. I was interested in the climax, which startlingly gave Nicole Kidman something to do. After 90 minutes of mumbling “kill uncle, save mother, avenge father” the film recalibrates the direction and motives of Skarsgard. However, I feel it’s just too cold and dreary to draw me in.

I do find the film a fascinating business project.
At a reported $80M budget, this film comes in a size that we just don’t see much of any more. And it’s further bizarre to me that this size budget is doled out to an Indie director on an artsy viking project without a character named Thor. How did this happen? It will need $200M to $240M to break even in theatres. The money may have been secured before the pandemic, but even still. Who grew lit this? Maybe all cabins were IKEA product placements, and I just didn’t notice. That would have subsidized the production budget a bit. Seriously, I’m coming to realize that some films are being greenlit not because they’re potential profit makers, but because they hold long-term value as an asset in a streaming outfit’s library. It’s a memorable film that will resonate in ‘What to Watch’ algorithms for the next few years, but could never have been considered a potential money-maker in the traditional box office. Quite frankly, this stuff fascinates me and is more thought-provoking than Skarsgard’s actual long, laborious journey through revenge..
B+

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