Viking culture and Norse mythology have always been fascinating. The brutality and barbaric way of life, and the interesting gods they serve make for some epic storytelling. Director Robert Eggers, along with co-writer, Sjón, a renowned Icelandic author, exceed on every front, and make a truly memorable film. The Northman feels like the culmination of a director’s entire career, and yet this is only Eggers’ third feature-length film. There is a consistent flow, aided by the mesmerizing plot, which makes the 136-minute run time fly by. When the credits roll, viewers can’t help but acknowledge they just watched something special, a Norse epic that will linger on for a long time.
Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) lives in a modest Viking village as a kid, passing the time by waiting for his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), to return from his travels. When he finally arrives after a long journey, King Aurvandil indoctrinates Amleth with an oath: if anything should happen to him, Amleth must swear to avenge his father. When Fjölnir The Brotherless (Claes Bang) betrays and murders his brother Aurvandil, he assumes the throne and captures Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Amleth narrowly escapes the village, and vows to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill Fjölnir. When he meets up with Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), the two vow to help each other accomplish their goals.
The Northman is gorgeous throughout, whether the scene calls for some dark, brooding action or a wide shot of the Icelandic frontier. Every single scene is filmed with a purpose, and it shows; Egger has accomplished something that truly feels authentic. The way the movie is shot and stitched together will entice viewers to rewatch it. It is mesmerizing how the film’s flow never seems to be interrupted. In an early scene, as Amleth’s adopted clan sets out to pillage an unsuspecting village, the camera sits on a dolly and films all the chaos in one take. As the camera weaves in and out of the action, one gets the sense that the choreography alone was a massive undertaking. Although some scenes may be hard to stomach, every second is essential viewing.
The acting is also top notch in Egger’s epic. The entire cast help engrain the film’s authenticity, and do well to never take the audience out of the moment. These characters are meticulously molded and developed, and all have characteristics to love or hate. Amleth is driven by revenge; his life is consumed by it. Fjölnir is honorable in his own eyes, but has done unspeakable things in order to seize the throne. Olga is filled with hope, intelligence, and relies on Mother Earth to be her guide. Every one of these characters could have their own movie made about them, a testament to The Northman’s storytelling.
There are not many movies that can hit as hard as this one. Every scene packs a punch, led by Eggers and his impressive cast. Told during one of the darkest and harshest time periods in human history, The Northman truly captures the audience and makes them feel like they are there. With Eggers proving that he is in the prime of his career, his latest film is a must-see for moviegoers.