Robert Eggers is one of those visual directors that knows how to blow the mind of audiences. Eggers pushes the limit of cinema with an eye for the weird but visually stimulating. The director has done it again with his recent movie, The Northman, but feels off this time around. The story of a Viking out for revenge sees Eggers directing his most expensive film to date, but this time around, The Northman lacks just a tad bit from what is known of the director’s exciting style of filmmaking.
The Northman, directed by Eggers—who shares writing duties with Sjón—and features Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, and Anya Taylor-Joy. Willem Dafoe pops up occasionally, but what makes this casting even more impressive is the long-overdue return of Björk.
The plot seems “basic” on the surface but gets more profound if you give the movie more time to sit with you. “I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!” is said young and older Amelth—played by Oscar Novak and Skarsgård, respectfully. This repeated phrase throughout the story gives the movie purpose for two-thirds of it. It doesn’t take the typical revenge story route, but The Northman opens the idea of what is a person’s life purpose if that purpose has been a lie.
There are moments when Amelth encounters certain characters along his journey—like Seeress (Björk) and Heimir The Fool (Dafoe), that amplifies the main character’s depth. However, as the Northman goes on, it loses some of that depth and heavily relies on the visuals to make it to the finishing line. Don’t get me wrong. I was in “awe” of what I was seeing but started to miss that thought-provoking plot device closer to the end of the movie.
Skarsgård has been acting for a long time, and some have relied on his looks more than his acting. The Northman gives Skarsgård the suitable material that plays toward his strength. The trailer sells the movie as an epic action-packed acid-laced trip through a Viking’s adventure, but there is plenty of downtime for Skarsgård and the rest of the cast to flex their acting muscles. Kidman as Amelth’s mother, Queen Gudrún, puts on her A-game in the movie, and I believe there would’ve been a severe push during last year’s awards season for her role.
Hawke has been in several significant roles these past couple of years. The actor has been killing it on Marvel Studios Moon Knight and Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone and does the same in The Northman. There is some chemistry between Taylor-Joy and Skarsgård at the beginning, but the forced “love” connection between the two doesn’t hold up in the third act.
Eggers’s talent for filming stunning shots continues in this junior film. The budget for The Northman is estimated at $70,000,000, and this movie looks the part. The LSD fueled display of Amelth’s family was an eyegasm moment in the film, and there are several smaller to medium scenes later that continues that trend. Egger even adds a level of flair during his night shots.
He gives it that crisp look and highlights the blue and other dark colors to a pleasing aesthetic. Surprisingly, the set-pieces that have stuck with me the most are a couple of camp raid scenes that are shown throughout the movie. In addition, Eggers uses a Steadicam to showcase the carnage that plays out with long continuous shots that feels like these are testing grounds for something more prominent in his future films.
Egger has gotten on my list of directors that his name alone will get me to buy tickets to his latest movie on day one. The director continues to elevate his skill in telling a visually engaging story. Still, unfortunately, The Northman suffers in some of the plot points at the tail end of the second act and doesn’t fully recover. The film is epic, to say the least, and most of the acting is superb, but surprisingly, it’s not my favorite film by the director. That place in my heart belongs to The Witch, which might say something f**ked up about me.