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Review: ‘The Northman’ a hard-hitting epic, gorgeous display of Norse mythology

By Janean Sorrell, May 3 2022

Robert Eggers creates captivating films that stick with you, and “The Northman” is no different. From the casting, the lore, action, costume and location, this film illuminates historical accuracy.

Eggers, working alongside cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, forged a jaw-dropping, grandiose Viking epic, filled with precise detail, copious action and mythic grandeur.

Whether you’re a history buff, cinephile or just looking for an evening’s worth of entertainment, there is a lot of love about “The Northman.” The cinematography is exquisite, making use of outdoor lighting and firelit interiors along with the stunning views of Ireland and Iceland, where the film was produced.

I cannot stop thinking about the lighting and how it evolves over the film. Early scenes appear almost out of a pop-up-book. The beginning feels like a story – with ancient gods and customs and traditions we have long outgrown.

Beauty and horror frequently fuse on the big screen, creating an intense, ominous tone that lingers for the bulk of the film. Not every scene is filled with bloodshed and warfare, but the perpetual tension will keep you at the end of your seat.

Shot on 35mm and on an 87-day schedule, there are a handful of truly impressive single-take shots that blew me away.

Violence even has its own rhythm in the film. From the galloping of war horses to the thud of arrows piercing into muscle, the score feels crusted with dirt, sulfur and dried blood with none of that triumphant gleam that encompasses so many revenge sagas. Medieval instruments are used to make unfamiliar sounds – which creates a necessary strangeness, as the film is suspended between earthly woes and Norse mythology.

Eggers’ affinity for studying the history when constructing these long-ago settings pays off once again. For a film with intangible and fantastical concepts – the gods and destiny – it remains freshly grounded and tactile.

There are a few instances of obvious CGI, gods and men rising from the dead plus a historic naked sword fight at the base of a volcano. There are also costumes, landscapes and structures that offer texture necessary for transporting viewers to the 10th century.

Courtesy of Justin Oo

Eggers wrote the script with Sjón, an Icelandic novelist and poet and attracted a major cast. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy, alongside Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Claes Band and Willem Dafoe. Björk was in the film just for a brief moment, but she was a scene stealer with her performance. The film might even win Nicole Kidman an award nomination next year for her performance.

The actors do a fine job overall. While the chemistry between the two leads Skarsgård and Taylor-Joy, is hot and cold, the pair ultimately sell the emotional punch demanded by the final jaw-dropping action set piece.

“The Northman,” is a story rooted in legend, but most viewers will probably be familiar with this story from “Hamlet,”an epic tale of vengeance and betrayal.  Prince Amleth, played by Skarsgård  must avenge his father’s death and rescue his mother from his father’s murderer.

By the time the movie approaches its end, it evolves to something vivid and lifelike. Viewers are completely transported into this world with Valkyrie, animal spirits, witches and Valhalla awaiting.

Eggers has a unique ability to draw us into past worlds governed by things we can’t understand by giving us characters that clearly do understand these ancient powers. Prince Amleth has knowledge of the gods and so does the viewer of “The Northman,” thanks to the direction of Eggers.

“The Northman” is an excellent and gruesome revenge film that avoids any traps of predictability. It’s beautifully brutal with magnificent cinematography and sound design.

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