Jared Jacoby’s review published on Letterboxd:
“I will avenge you father. I will save you mother. I will kill you Fjölnir.”
When King Aurvandill returns home to his kingdom on the island of Hrafsney, he is greeted by his wife Queen Gurdún and his son Amleth. He is then paid a surprise visit by his brother Fjölnir who betrays and murders Aurvandill the next day. Once the king is dead, his brother orders his men to kill his son as well, only for him to escape as he watches Fjölnir take away his mother. Amleth vows to avenge his father, save his mother and slay Fjölnir after he flees from the massacre of his village.
The Northman is one epic historical film for sure. Robert Eggers’ bloody Scandinavian tale is a pretty jaw-dropping film from nearly every angle. First of all, I love the way it is filmed. There are so many tracking shots and stylish transitions between scenes and cuts. One battle scene had a full shot of Amleth climbing a wall with his axes going over the wall and doing a lot of fighting without going to another cut for a long time. I am a sucker for these kinds of shots and it makes this particular film come off as organic and real. It makes the battles feel more visceral than they already are and it allows you to appreciate the action (and occasionally cringe at a gory scene). The battle scenes themselves are amazing. Every single one of them are brutal and demonstrate the nature of the theme of revenge. The set designs are brilliant as well. This looks like it was filmed in Iceland and the backgrounds just look gorgeous. The soundtrack is memorable as well. Everything about the production of this film points to a surprisingly realistic and sweeping medieval film with Viking vibes to it. Every aspect adds to its tone and themes.
Speaking of which, the biggest takeaway from The Northman I got was the way it conveyed revenge. This movie shows revenge as the endless cycle that destroys relationships, friendships and families. While the movie does not outright say that Amleth is wrong for wanting revenge against his uncle, it show how he becomes more ruthless and violent in his quest to take Fjölnir down. It also shows that revenge goes around and comes around during the third act. Keep in mind the script still makes Fjölnir unsympathetic enough for the viewer to root for Amleth to slay. However, the way the script portrays the consequences of revenge is really powerful on how it can affect anyone, even the most innocent people. It makes for an engaging tale and an intense conflict between Amleth and Fjölnir.
I also love the direction Robert Eggers takes with the film. Not only does he go for a tale with a huge scope to appreciate the visceral nature of the film, but he sets the tone as dark as possible. The movie is outright bleak and it only gets worse from the opening scene. There is hardly humor or scenes where the main character even smiles. This is how a revenge tale should be told. It is straight to the point Eggers understands the tragedy that revenge can lead to as well as the rough life of the medieval times.
As far as performances go, Nicole Kidman blew me away in a scene that was just a few minutes long, but it is by far the most shocking and powerful scene in the movie. Her delivery in that scene is impeccable. Alexander Skarsgård is really solid as Amleth, particularly with his performance regarding the stunts and his rage towards Fjölnir. Just with his expressions, you can tell he wants to chop his evil uncle’s head off. Speaking of Fjölnir, Claes Bang also did a great job with his role. He came off as menacing, but also showed signs of weakness. He comes off as not just an evil uncle to slay, but as a three-dimensional king who is still evil enough to root against. Claes Bang nails this character to a tee. Ethan Hawke is also effective as King Aurvandill as he is shown to be a loving father and Hawke plays this role perfectly. During his death, he never begs for mercy either and Hawke’s delivery on the King’s spiteful speech to his brother is superb. Anya Taylor Joy is solid as the sorceress, but I cannot help but feel that she was underused in the movie. The rest of the supporting cast is great as well with the He-Witch and Seeress being standouts despite their limited screen time. They creeped me out, but the actors playing as them were perfect in their roles respectively.
The Northman is an amazing historical epic filled with epic battles and an intense revenge story. It demonstrates the destruction of revenge while showing multiple sides of both the protagonists and the antagonists. It is even quite unpredictable with one particular twist shocking me and leaving me on the edge of my seat. This is a beautiful film with some of the best and most brutal battle sequences for a film in this genre. As far as historical epics goes, The Northman has it all.
One warning though, if you are squeamish to blood and gore, you might have a hard time watching this film. This is not for the faint of heart as it is one of the goriest films I have seen in a long time.