“The Northman” was co-written and directed by Robert Eggers and stars Alexander Skarsgård as Prince Amleth, a brutal viking on a quest to fulfill his vow to avenge his murdered father. The film also stars Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Dafoe.
If you’ve seen Robert Eggers’ previous work (“The Witch” and “The Lighthouse”) you’ll know what to expect: trippy visuals and metaphorical imagery — basically, an art film that’s not for everybody. But if you like Eggers’ style like I do, you’ll absolutely love this movie. The trailers were intentionally misleading, making the movie seem like an action-packed epic using almost exclusively clips from the first act. One of the most interesting aspects of this film is its structure: as mentioned, the first act is more of a conventional straight-up action movie while the second and third acts focus on slower-paced psychological drama. It almost feels like Eggers did this to make the film more marketable for the general audience, but I’m fine with it, as it makes for an unexpected and more enjoyable experience.
While this is no action movie, the action that is in it is some of the best of 2022. Every single action sequence is shot with minimal cuts, most of them being single take battles and sword fights. There’s a particular raid sequence in the beginning that’s so brutal and so impressive that it’s worth the price of admission (or VOD rental/purchase) alone.
Throughout its entire runtime “The Northman” is gorgeous. Firstly, it’s almost entirely shot using natural lighting; given it’s a viking movie that takes place in the tenth century, the characters spend most of their time outdoors. The lighting makes you feel more invested in this immersive world, also aided by the stunning landscapes and colors. The use of oranges, blues, and blacks are exaggerated to make for a more trippy experience that fits the tone. Truly brilliant direction, cinematography, and production design.
Eggers has stated in many interviews that he and his team tried to make the most “accurate viking movie” ever made, and I think they succeeded. Beyond just the period-accurate sets and costumes, the world of “The Northman” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing what viking culture was really like back then. Vikings weren’t a bunch of guys with horns on their helmets. They were vicious, immoral, and repugnant warriors who valued feats of dominance more than almost anything. These were murderers who had no issues burning villages and killing innocent people, and seeing Amleth start his path among these people makes for a more tragic character.
Speaking of Amleth, he’s one of my favorite movie protagonists of the past few years. He has some of Skarsgård’s natural charisma and you really sympathize with his tragic past, as well as his legitimately heartfelt romance with a slave named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy). But along with his likable qualities are some truly despicable ones, such as his malicious viking tendencies and his singular focus on vengeance. The film tests him throughout the narrative, particularly in the latter half of the film, when he has to question how long he’ll keep up this violence after falling in love with Olga and (no spoilers) committing some unforgivably evil acts. His journey and arc are the strong emotional center of the story. That said, since Amleth’s arc is so brutal, the film doesn’t have much rewatchability to it.
I feel the need to reiterate that this is an art film. It’s essentially a big-budget A24 film made by a different studio. If you liked last year’s “The Green Knight” like I did, then this is right up your alley.
Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” is both a period epic and a psychological thriller which is immensely satisfying throughout. This is one of my favorite movies of 2022 so far and I strongly recommend it.