The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

There's a lot to like about the gall of this project and the surprise of seeing something as risky and idiosyncratic as this on as large a scale. It's a real historical epic, fully embedding itself in the mythos and ethos of another culture, just as it's an action revenge film with motivations audiences will be familiar with (if not tired of).

In the end, I think Eggers might be a victim of his own success a bit, with the larger scope of The Northman bringing out some of the limitations of his research-based approach, at least on this project. The elements that give it an authenticity and a unique texture are sometimes at odds with the more traditional obligations of a narrative like this. This leads to some clunky moments like Amleth talking to his blade in the moonlight. This probably comes from a legitimate literary tradition, but dropped in the middle of the second act here feels out of place.

Another potential problem with Eggers's approach is the position of the film within and against the culture it explores. I would imagine Eggers would argue it's not his place to question or comment on the ideals of 9th century Vikings, and maybe he's right. Still, it's frustrating that The Northman teases the idea of questioning the impulse for revenge but ultimately does little to challenge it.

But Eggers isn't some unimaginative historian, there's a lot of strong imagery and handling of tone here, I just wish he went a bit further. Dramatizing moments of human emotion may be more hit and miss, but there was an intimacy and sensitivity to the Amleth's relationship with Olga that I liked.

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