Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
Directed by Robert Eggers
Ever since the arrival of the enigmatically titled ‘The VVitch’ in 2015, Robert Eggers has proved himself to be a brilliant storyteller and director who possesses a great many more skills than interesting film titles alone. Often working within historical periods, both ‘The VVitch’ and ‘The Lighthouse’ transported audiences back in time, to an era of history that most people were probably thanking their lucky stars they’d never lived in by the time the curtains closed. His latest release, ‘The Northman’ is no different, and allows us a detailed insight into the unruly and violent landscape of the Viking period, when men seemingly grew to the size of trees, and a dark magic infected Scandinavian land.
Put simply, ‘The Northman’ is a story of revenge, and yet things are never as simple as they seem. First shown as a child, and then later as a grown warrior searching for the man who killed his father and stole his mother from him, Alexander Skarsgård takes up the role of lead character Amleth, and whilst there is fairly minimal dialogue required for his performance, the ferocity and emotion invested into every piece of body language ensures that you can’t help but follow his every move. Combining this with a silver-tongued Anya Taylor-Joy in the role of Olga, a skilled manipulator born into a settlement helpless enough to be at the constant mercy of roaming viking hordes, makes a partnership between the two a powerful combination.
For this film, it isn’t just the leading performers which make it such an interesting watch. Supporting actors Björk, Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke all provide the story with a great deal of further complexity through their incredible contributions, but in particular it seemed to me that Nicole Kidman really stole the show at times, delivering a deceptively layered performance as Queen Gudrún, the mother of leading man, Amleth.
On first going into the film, I felt quite concerned that the trailer had, in typical trailer style, given away far too much of the plot. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case at all, and in fact, looking back on the short snippets of the film displayed in those few minutes, I can’t help but feel that it was planned that way all along. Robert Eggers definitely appears to be one of the most exciting storytellers in the industry at the moment (having been helped by prolific Icelandic writer Sjón for this latest release), constantly delivering original and intriguing concepts to the big screen.
Within his previous two films, Robert Eggers’ storytelling has been generally contained within very small communities, focusing on the relationships between only a handful of people to drive the narrative forward. ‘The Northman’ sees a very different change to this style, with the $90 million budget allowing for a move away from indie filmmaking limitations and into blockbuster territory. Despite this, the director’s vision and signature style remains seemingly untouched, as the film carries with it all the incredible intensity of performance and intricately researched storytelling details which have come to define Eggers’ career so far. For any fans of his previous film, I can’t imagine ‘The Northman’ disappointing in any way, but it also provides plenty of room for first-time viewers of his work to become caught up in the action as well.