Brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
Eggers’ most formally accomplished movie to date, even if its narrative is nothing new. Nor is it meant to be: his films have always placed trust in the enduring power of myth, and this proto-Hamlet is about as primal a legend as you could ask for. All the same, it’s at its best when it takes detours from that familiar tale of vengeance; for me, it peaks in the very first act, a genuinely gobsmacking dive into the surreality of the past that had me grabbed by the throat for a full half hour. A portentous invocation of the muses, the king’s ill-started return, homoerotic drug rituals, brutal murder, a jaw-droppingly ruthless village massacre, Björk’s (brief but grand) return to the silver screen: these delights alone solidify it as the finest film of the year so far. After that it settles into something more conventional, though with the same level of stunning visual prowess (Eggers and his cinematographer, Jarin Blaschke, have taken a page from Klimov in Come and See: this is a fantastic movie for those of us who love a well-executed long take), the poetry of his Sjón-co-scripted language, and the excellent performances from his exceptional cast. I was completely absorbed throughout and always excited to see which new image might be presented to me; I just found myself wishing it had followed through on some of its freakier threads—all of the incestuous perversity, for one—instead of ultimately hewing close to the recognizable narrative beats (probably a necessary byproduct of being an entirely more “commercial” movie than Eggers’ previous projects). But it’s a gorgeous and gruesome and immersive and compelling piece of work all the same, and incredibly effective at evoking the absolute brutality of a bygone age. It may not reinvent the wheel, but oh, does it spin smoothly! I’ll probably be seeing it once more before it leaves theaters: you definitely need to experience this one on the biggest scale possible. And the palpable enthusiasm of the audience—the whole theater applauded!—is a treat to experience in its own right.