The Northman (2022) movie review
The Northman is an action epic from director Robert Eggers, who brought us The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), as well as writer Sjón from Lamb (2021). The film stars Alexander Skarsgård as a Viking prince who, after escaping his home as a child, sets out to avenge the murder of his father. The film opens this weekend as one of a trio of critically acclaimed films, with an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Of the three films opening this weekend, The Northman was my most anticipated. As a matter of fact, I love Eggers’ work so much that this was one of my most anticipated films of the year. And while it may not be for everyone, I was totally blown away my this absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.
Now while I intend to praise this film, I do want to emphasize the bizarre almost drug-induced nature of Eggars approach to low fantasy stepped in Nordic lore. If you know how strange this film is going in, you’ll be better off for it.
The film settles in almost immediately, as the stunning cinematography from Eggars’ usual collaborator Jarin Blaschke, as well as composers Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, submerge the audience in one of the most striking audio-visual experiences in any film of the genre, harkening back to the classic epics of old. But gone are the grand wides and sweeping classical score. No the visual style is brutal and sharp, and the score is intense and authentic enough to make the soundtrack of any historical film sweat.
Aside from top notch cinematography and a killer score, the production design, costume design, color, editing- I mean this is a really well made movie! That’s an understatement, but gosh for such strange storytelling throughout, The Northman has a wonderful rhythm. (Which may be aided by the score once again.) Regardless, while you can feel the runtime on this almost two hour and twenty minute movie, as an epic, every moment feels earned.
In his first two films, Eggers quickly established his unique style of directing by not only aiming to accurately capture the period in which the film is set, but to have the writing itself feel saturated on it. Which means in films like The Witch, instead of lines like, “Why did we set out to the wilderness?” it’s “What went we out into this wilderness to find?” The intent changing the importance from the words to the meaning of the words. You watch, you listen, you try to understand, but you get the idea regardless. If you watch any adaptation of Shakespeare, this isn’t a new concept.
The Northman is no exception, with a heavy Norse dialect infringed in each character in wonderfully varying degrees. And while this may make the strange sequences even stranger, it furnishes the already layered world this film captures. (And don’t worry, it’s not quite as nonsensical as his other two films.)
Of course that dialect would be lost without the intent of the talent in front of the camera. And boy is talent a word for it! A career best from Alexander Skarsgård, who carries this film’s interesting themes on his massive shoulders with ease; the always reliable Anya Taylor-Joy, who along with a few cameos from other Eggers films, slips into the world with ease; brief but strong performances from Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Oscar Novak, and more; and a surprisingly driven performance from Nicole Kidman. I’m probably just tired of seeing her before every movie… Anyway to round out the cast is Claes Bang, who really cements the film’s already complex approach to a rather simple story.
Now as much as I adore this film for filling the need I have for a mainstream, big budget, fantasy epic that throws back to Hollywood epics like Gladiator (2000) with the inclusion of a strong fantasy ascetic and genuinely solid filmmaking quality- I wish Anya Taylor-Joy and Claes Bang had a bit more character development. The film has time for it; and while they are not shallow characters by any means, I felt like they would be a bit deeper.
Regardless, all those things I said really make this film something to grand and exciting that I never expected from this A24 horror director. He is attempting here to bring not one, but two waning genres back in a big way. We haven’t seen an historic epic like this (a good one anyway) in what feels like forever, nor do we get that many good fantasy films that can really stand up as something worthy of discussing alongside the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy. Is it perfect? No. It is for everyone? No. But gosh it was absolutely for me, and even if you see it just to see it once, it’s worth the time. 9/10.
So The Northman? Did you see it? What did you think? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And stay tuned because we’ve got a few more reviews from the weekend coming soon! Thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince