Director Robert Eggers has proved himself over the last few years with a flawless track record of some of my favourite films including 2015’s The Witch and 2019’s Lighthouse. While the Northman is his biggest budget to date and a mainstream studio release, the quality and beauty of his films shine through in The Northman. Assembling an exemplary cast while taking on the usual trope of a revenge tale set in a Viking world, The Northman is incredibly beautiful while still being raw, angry and incredibly intense through its location, performances and bloody action sequences.
The story follows Amleth (Oscar Novak as a child, Alexander Skarsgard as a man) a prince and son to Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) who rule a kingdom Hrafnsey off the Irish coast. When Aurvandil arrives back from an overseas conquest he indoctrinates his son into taking his first steps as a future king with the help of Heimer (Willem Dafoe) While they are training Aurvandil’s brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang) stages a coo taking out Aurvandil and chasing Amleth into a boat to sail away from his home. Many years (and muscles!) later Amleth returns to his homeland disguised as a slave with his sole mission “I will avenge you, Father! I will save you Mother! I will kill you, Fjolnir”
What follows is a bloody revenge tale with some intense action sequences, intense fight scenes and so many blood splatters, I am still surprised it passed with an MA rating. The cinematographer Jarin Blaschke infuses the beauty of Iceland with the harsh roughness of the Viking villages delivering some of the most breathtaking scenes in cinema this year.
The story feels familiar with some very obvious Hamlet undertones. The difference here is, that writer Eggers and Sjon make the character of Amleth an unstoppable force barreling through villages indiscriminately killing and pillaging till he is reminded of his quest by the mystical witch played by Bjork. It is this moment and many others when the Viking world and the creatures of Norse mythology blend together that provide The Northman with its best moments.
Skarsgard is the standout here as the lead. It’s been a while since we have seen him in something that feels suited to him completely. The character of Amleth has that blend of incredibly tough guy, almost the embodiment of masculinity while still showing the vulnerable side when it comes to his mother and love interest Olga (Anya Taylor Joy) Joy is the perfect partner to Skarsgard, she is the brains, he is the brawn and working together as slaves they must find a way to escape and be together. Nicole Kidman delivers a great performance as she always does, however, her misplaced accent feels disjointed and comes across as comical at times. Bjork delivers an intensely fierce performance that is perfectly matched to her pop-culture persona. It is by far the standout performance of the film and helps the film feel more connected to the mythological side of the story.
This is undoubtedly the most mainstream of Eggers films. Fans of his previous work will be able to find the essence of what makes his films so unique and appealing in The Northman, told with a different audience in mind. The Northman feels like a blend of Conan with a drop of influence from the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla video game. If Viking lore and mythology interests you, this film delivers all of that in its 2 hour and 20 minutes run time. Eggers uses his camera well delivering long sweeping shots and breathtaking vistas that feel like traditional Hollywood filmmaking for a new generation.
The Northman is an intense revenge ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat with its incredible action sequences and breathtaking locations that help this stand out as one of the best Viking films ever made. An incredibly talented cast helps the locations come to life while the mythological creatures in Norse culture blend with the real world to elevate the story. Led by Alexander Skarsgard who delivers a career-defining performance, The Northman continues Robert Eggers track record of incredible filmmaking delivering one of this years most incredible cinematic experiences.
The Northman is in cinemas April 21.