The Northman Review
As good as it gets
Quick Thoughts -
Each and every shot in The Northman oozes with Eggers dedication and commitment to telling this story. His cold, dark, visually astonishing, and nuanced look at revenge and Norse mythology gives us a nightmare of a movie that holds more secrets than answers.
As the credits rolled, someone in my theater yelled - “Movies are back” and I can’t sum up the movie any better than that.
The Good - There is so much to love about this film, but one of my favorites is the way Eggers used contrast throughout the film. Many times throughout its two hour and seventeen minute runtime, a transition is made from an extremely loud scene to an incredibly soft and quiet scene with almost no phasing into it, just a hard and immediate transition. The same thing is done on occasion with the lighting, going from dark to bright without warning and done swiftly. At first this seems a very rigid and even elementary way to piece together a film. However, the more this was shown throughout the film, the more clear it became that this was Eggers subtle way of letting the audience experience what the vikings experienced - forceful and sudden change at a moments notice. This subject is broached a couple of times throughout the film, specifically when Feng tells his son that no man knows from one day to the next if he will be master or slave. Obviously, most of us in 2022 aren’t going to experience that feeling of earth shattering change like not knowing if tomorrow will bring life altering sudden changes, but in the confines of the film, Eggers subjects the audience to mini versions of sudden change via these storytelling devices.
Another lovely part of the film is the nuanced way in which the story was told. Many characters and scenes in the movie could be interpreted multiple different ways, but Eggers leaves it up to the audience to decide and doesn’t try to. This takes patience and time on the part of a filmmaker to not push his view onto to the audience while also making character and scenes multidimensional enough to make people think. Additionally, there was no effort to dumb it down for the audience - the Shakespearean dialogue, symbolism, and Norse rituals weren’t overly explained, but instead presented in a way like we were familiar with them our whole lives. This kind of presentation is rare for a movie with an attempt to have major commercial appeal, but I would have to imagine that Eggers prepared nature gave him plenty of amo when the studio tried to cut some of that or add elsewhere.
It is also worth mentioning how visually stunning the production design was and how Eggers nailed the tone, pacing, and tension throughout the movie. Finally, the buy in from each of the cast members is what ultimately helped turn Eggers vision into such a masterpiece. Anya Taylor-Joy has said in interviews that working with Eggers is different than most filmmakers because he has such a vision and direction behind every little detail. So, instead of coming to the set with suggestions or ideas for the character or the scenes, she comes ready to make his vision a reality. It is safe to say that the whole cast brought that level of buy-in to the film and it really showed across the board.
The Bad - My main flaw with the movie is that it wasn’t long enough. That is not something that I would normally say about a 2 hour and 16 minute movie, but the pacing and storytelling devices make you wish that you could spend more and the movie would have benefited from some of the characters being filled out more. For example, I would have loved to explore Ana Taylor-Joy’s character more or get another 15-20 minutes to see what young Amieth’s life was like before he was forced to become a man. The main point of the film was to focus on Amieth’s journey and throughout that we got shades of some additional character’s viewpoints through that, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to deeply explore the others or their past. Honestly, this could have been three hours and I wouldn’t have even thought about checking the time once.
Rating - 95/100
Lesson to be learned - There are no winners in the game of revenge
Best Performance - Alexander Skargard as Amieth
Honorable Mention - There is not one performance that wasn’t exceptional, so I have to say everyone here. From Anya Taylor-Joy to Claes Bang to William Defoe, just mesmerizing performance after mesmerizing performance. The really shocker to me came from Nicole Kidman, who I think gave her best performance of the past decade. One scene in particular between her and Amieth WILL be on her lifetime achievement award montage reel in a few decades, fantastic stuff. Kudos to the casting team on this film for doing such a great job and to the actors for all investing in the story and pulling it off.
Will I watch again - Without a doubt, the real question is under or over a week before I return to see it again. This one will have some great rewatch appeal because more of Eggers intentionality behind the direction will come with each new watch through.
Would I recommend - After the movie was over, I texted multiple friends imploring them to see this, so yes. If you have ever even remotely liked action tales or epics, then it is a must see. Even if you don’t, I think you would still enjoy the stunning imagery and the beautiful storytelling.
Final Takeaways - To me, this what the movies and storytelling is all about. You get a visionary direction that is at the top of his game like Robert Eggers and you give him a $90 million budget to play in the sandbox. We knew what Eggers was capable of before this film, but when you give him a big budget to use those skills with, some special things happen, These are the kind of projects that we constantly whine about not happening anymore. Honestly, I am shocked this movie ever got green-light for a theatrical only release, but since it did, we need to all show out and remind the studios there is still an appetite for this type of film.