Film and drama Opinion

Nordic lore with a bit of gore, The Northman fails to bore

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A young Viking prince is determined to fulfil a promise to save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father. Digital editor Dan Jensen goes back in time with a stunning new historical epic by Robert Eggers.

THE NORTHMAN is a new film from writer/director Robert Eggers, who previously brought us The Witch and The Lighthouse, two films that appealed to both mainstream and arthouse audiences alike. In this Viking epic, Eggers has adhered to his signature style and delivered something that is a work of high art with a flare of Hollywood spectacle.

Alexander Skarsgård plays the lead role of Amleth, a prince who witnesses his father’s murder as a boy and grows up seeking revenge on the man responsible – his own uncle. Through his quest for vengeance, he meets a slave girl named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who happens to be an elemental sorceress and becomes an integral part of Amleth’s destiny.

The story is taken from a medieval Scandinavian legend from the 12th Century and if you think it sounds quite Shakespearean, that may be because Hamlet was also based on the same tale (to the point where not a lot of creativity went into naming the character of Hamlet). And there’s a reason the story has remained throughout the centuries as it’s nothing short of brilliant.

The film that Eggers has crafted around the legend is a profound piece of cinema that will thrill and captivate even the most casual fan of historical epics. It’s flawless. Every facet of the filmmaking process is done to perfection, from the hypnotic cinematography through to the performances that feel so genuine, you’ll forget the familiarity of the faces bringing the characters to life.

Along with Skarsgård and Taylor-Joy, we are treated to career highlight performances from Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman. Each was trained to deliver dialogue with a Scandinavian accent and for the most part, they’re incredibly convincing. Nicole Kidman was the standout and if you’d never seen her before, you would swear English was not her native tongue.

Despite being mostly set in Iceland, The Northman was largely filmed in Ireland and features some of the most gorgeous scenery you’ll ever see on screen. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and feels otherworldly and mystical. Adding to the gorgeous imagery, the score also feels like music from ancient times and ranges from haunting to rousingly epic.

Authenticity is one of the film’s biggest strengths. With a combination of cinematography, music and production design, The Northman transports the audience back to 895 AD and by the time the credits roll, you’ll feel like you actually visited that era. The interiors of the wooden huts and houses give you a sensation of smelling old timber, the bitter cold of the exteriors will make you notice the air conditioning in the cinema.

The film is violent at times, but it’s justified. Being set in a brutal period, beheadings and viscera don’t feel shocking or out of place. And it’s a case of the violence being essential to tell the story. Classic themes such as violence begetting violence and the significance of finding one’s place or purpose in the world are as relevant now as they were hundreds of years ago.

Another thing that Eggers has been successful in achieving is that throughout the 137-minute run time, there isn’t a single dull moment. Something important is always happening. Quite often, he will fill his frame with so many things going on at once that your eyes will wander across the screen trying to take it all in. There are moments where background action takes place that feels like it should have more attention drawn to it, but in the end, it’s just there to add life to any given scene.

The Northman is a masterfully-crafted cinema epic that will appeal to both the arthouse crowd and the more mainstream moviegoers. Featuring majestic landscapes, jaw-dropping battle scenes and a few twists and turns you won’t expect, it’s a movie worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.

★★★★★

The Northman is now showing in cinemas across the country.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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