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The Northman Movie Review

The Northman (2022) movie poster
The Northman

Theatrical Release: April 22, 2022 / Running Time: 137 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Robert Eggers / Writers: Robert Eggers (screenplay), Saxo Grammaticus (The Legend of Amleth)

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård (Amleth), Nicole Kidman (Queen Gudrún), Claes Bang (Fjölnir the Brotherless), Anya Taylor-Joy (Olga of the Birch Forest), Ethan Hawke (King Aurvandill War-Raven), Gustav Lindh (Thorir the Proud), Elliott Rose (Gunnar), Willem Dafoe (Heimir the Fool), Björk (Seeress), Olwen Fouéré (Ashildur Hofgythja), Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson (He-witch), Ian Whyte (Mound Dweller)


For the third time in as many attempts, writer-director Robert Eggers looks to fully immerse you in an ancient time and place. Having dramatized life on a New England farm in the 17th century for Puritan settlers in The Witch and life in 1890s New England for The Lighthouse, now Eggers turns his attentions to Vikings in late 9th and early 10th century Scandinavia. The filmmaker is just as meticulous about recreating the look, sound, and feel of a distant, historical world, although The Northman leans heavily upon folkloric and supernatural elements to tell its brutal and unflinching vengeance tale.

As a child, a boy named Amleth witnesses the brutal beheading of his father, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang, star of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film The Square).

"I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir." is the rallying cry of the grown-up Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) in Robert Eggers' "The Northman."

From youth, Amleth’s rallying cry becomes “I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” We never doubt that he will pursue this mission as he grows up among Vikings as a berseker (becoming Alexander Skarsgård) who ransack with the ferocity of wild animals.

The adult Amleth poses as a slave to be acquired by the not so regal domain of an Icelandic farm owned by Fjölnir, who has married Amleth’s mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Gudrún does not appear to be in need of rescue, but Amleth is locked in on his mission, biding his time to exact perfect and absolute revenge, having gained some insight from his fellow slave Olga (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), a Slavic sorceress with her own vested interest in the matter.

Based on the writings of 12th-13th century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, whose legend of Amleth inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is a brutal and striking epic by someone whose devotion to period recreation is unrivaled and whose fully developed cinematic flair is growing more potent with every outing. Having worked with a budget of just $4 million on The Witch and $11 million on The Lighthouse, Eggers has graduated to the big leagues based on the glowing receptions those films met. Estimates on The Northman’s cost are in the $70-$90 million range, a far cry from Marvel budgets but too substantial to truly join the endangered class of mid-budgeted fare.

The young Amleth believes he is the product of two loving parents, the king and queen (Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman).

Eggers’ cinema is not for the masses and yet The Northman plays to them. Its rich atmosphere and universal story complement oodles of graphic violence and some pretty twisted elements. Repeatedly, I found my head turning sideways in a wince rather than observing in full the extreme bloodshed inflicted.

There is precedent to this type of epic in the turn-of-the-millennium Best Picture-winning films Braveheart and Gladiator. Arriving from Universal’s specialty banner Focus Features in the middle of spring, The Northman doesn’t seem to have any aspirations for such accolades, not any legitimate shot with the industry’s highest honor this year having gone to a glorified TV movie distributed by Apple. But Eggers’ fierce and not easily forgotten epic is a much-needed shot of adrenaline in the chest of cinema, a high production value, high quality attraction that isn’t primarily aimed at teenagers and adapted from comic books.

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Directed by Robert Eggers: The LighthouseThe Witch
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Reviewed April 22, 2022.

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