It is fair to say that my excitement was quite high for Robert Eggers’ The Northman. I absolutely loved the sparse, compelling storytelling of The VVitch and the utter, stylish madness of The Lighthouse. His ability to get some amazing performances out of his actors must be commended and his eye for capturing a captivating story in a unique style chimed well with me.
Eggers has managed to draw a monumental performance out of Alexander Skarsgård for his role as Prince Amleth, calling on his imposing physical stature (much enhanced? This man here is a behemoth, none of the lanky Scandinavian here at all) to create and embody vengeance. We also have one of Nicole Kidman’s best performances in recent years (that I’ve seen anyway) as Queen Gudrún. Anya Taylor-Joy manages to give strong character and an equally steely determination in her portrayal of Olga of the Birch Forest.
The cinematography was, for the most part, wonderful. Taking in the vistas of Iceland is always going to look good: pitting the cold, harsh landscape against the fiery, disruption of the volcano just shouts epic. However, there were times when the colour palette faded so much that it looked like it was black and white, harking me back to The Lighthouse’s style choice and the subsequent return to full colour made me reel more than once.
Having watched and read a great deal of Norse and Viking culture, a lot of this film didn’t really bring anything new to the plate for me. Amleth’s encounter with the Norn I enjoyed greatly but it was only touched upon who these people were and why they were important. Ditto too the Valkyrie (as impressive as that sequence was), Odin and Freyr and the way that they praised their gods, whichever one of them they were closest to.
The History Channel’s series Vikings did a lot of what The Northman does but better, more in-depth and with a good amount of swagger too. I highly recommend watching it if you enjoyed this film, especially the early seasons.
The chapter style didn’t really work for me and the short sequences lead to it feeling a little disjointed as we jumped from time to time and place to place. The action, at the beginning especially, was pretty great though. The whole Berserker sequence with its single, tracking shot in particular, were spectacular. However, the rage and drive for vengeance didn’t really come through for me, it all felt a little bit reserved and seeing as this is coming from a civilisation that revered and promoted battle skills and “rage”, it didn’t feel quite right that this was the ending to this story. Yes, the sacrifice was fitting for the tale but, location aside, it wasn’t really the climatic, pulse raising spectacle I was expecting.
The Northman is by no means a bad film, but in comparison to Eggers’ other works it didn’t quite capture my imagination as much. There were so many moments in this that seem to be taken straight out of Gladiator that I couldn’t gloss over them: losing a family member, being sold into slavery, working to get back to the person responsible and even down to being wounded before the final battle.