Mike’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Northman is an atmospherically captivating film, that not only transports the viewer into the Viking world, but also transports the strong emotions from the characters to the viewer
Your strength breaks men's bones. I have the cunning to break their minds.
The Northman is not your typical type of action or revenge film. Instead it places the emphasis on the strong emotions and cultural elements of the Vikings. The film is not filled with continuous action sequences, but the action they do show, is absolutely brutal. This brutality isn't only showed by the fighting, but also the strong emotions and body language the characters show on screen. Combine this with the dynamic and engaging staging, that places the viewer right into the action, and you will literally feel the tension which gets your adrenaline flowing. This tension gets even further enhanced by the beautiful and exciting traditional Nordic folk score.
The length they took in terms of authenticity is something worth mentioning. Everything in this film is historically accurate and believable. From the cultural elements like the rituals and mythology, to the clothing, jewelry, weaponry, houses, chairs and even the type of wood used to build the longships.
The cinematography was very bold and impressive, which was a great contribution to the immersion. The use of desaturated colors, combined with the saturated colors of fire, felt gritty and beautifully visualized the brutality of the characters and the landscapes. Most of the scenes are shot with dynamic and engaging staging, and some scenes are even long takes, so the viewer is immersed into the action. But there are also specific scenes that are shot in an entirely different way. These scenes use a strong lighting contrast and a rule of thirds or golden section composition, combined with static framing and a centered composition, to visualize elements in an important and mythological way. Characters were also visualized by using static framing and a centered composition, in combination with them breaking the fourth wall, to create a strong presence and give the feeling they were speaking directly to the viewer.
The rule of thirds composition, with the visual elements aligned at the lower thirds of the image, reminded me a lot of the beautiful cinematography of Lawrence of Arabia. This use of the rule of thirds composition beautifully shows openness and scale, within a minimalistic yet strong abstract visualization. It remains one of my favorite compositions I've seen in a film.
The traditional Nordic folk score can be beautiful, but also extremely intimidating. This score can make you nervous and excited at the same time. Not only the characters will get your adrenaline flowing with their rituals and strong emotional outbursts, but the score will too. This isn't a score that is just beautiful to listen to, but it is also a score that changes the emotions of the viewer to the same emotions the characters feel. The emotionally focussed score reminded me a lot of the emotional score of Joker.
The acting was really well done, to the point that it doesn't feel like the actors were acting. Everything and everyone felt believable. From their beautiful Shakespearean poetic dialog, to their facial expressions and their body language. Especially Alexander Skarsgård did an outstanding job, by transforming himself into a beast. The way he moves, especially in the first action scene, feels like his primal instincts took over which shows that he will demolish everything that is in his way. Anja Taylor-Joy was also great, just like she is with all her roles. I do wish that she had some more screen time, because her character had so much more potentional.
Although interesting, the story and plot were a bit too straight forward for my liking and lacked some depth. Maybe this is because we've all seen the story by William Shakespeare before in films like The Lion King. Luckily Robert Eggers gave his own twist to this story by implementing some great mythological elements and a focus on immersion.
Overall this film was really good. The first and last act had one of the best sequences I've ever seen. After my first viewing the second act felt a bit dragged, because I was expecting a bit more action in order to feel more coherent with the first and third act. This completely changed after a second viewing, because the pacing made a lot more sense and therefore felt more coherent.
See where this film is ranked in my Top 50 favorite films of all time - Click here