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Review: The Northman. A remarkable viking vengeance leyend

  • Release year: 2022
  • Director: Robert Eggers.
  • Producers: Robert Eggers, Mark Huffman, Lars Knudsen, Arnon Milchan and Alexander Skarsgård.
  • Screenplay by: Sjón and Robert Eggers.
  • Cinematographer: Jarin Blaschke.
  • Music by: Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough.

Synopsis: a viking prince has to run away after his father is killed by his traitorous uncle. When he gets older, he goes in search of the traitor to exact revenge and fulfill his destiny.

Shotgun commentary: it is a very well researched viking revenge story turned into an astonishing work of art thanks to its cinematography.

Viking fleet approaching the coast, frame chosen for this review of The Northman.
Fig. 1. Viking fleet approaching the coast. Source: The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022).

Review

Let’s first acknowledge the basics: if you are a viking fan, you are most likely going to adore this movie; if you are an action fan, it may get a bit too slow for you sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of fighting and blood but, like any self respecting northern movie, there are lots of silent and slow shots that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) rowing in a boat as part of a mercenary crew, frame chosen for this review of The Northman.
Fig. 2. Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) rowing in a boat as part of a mercenary crew. Source: The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022).

Having said that, I genuinely encourage you to watch The Northman even if you don’t have the most knowledge about viking culture. It is a beautiful film made with so much care that even a viking culture amateur as I am, can appreciate certain details that give away the incredible research effort behind it.

Attention to detail

After I arrived home from the cinema, I looked up certain bits of The Northman that had captured my curiosity to confirm my suspicions and I was gladly surprised to see that every detail is faithful to history. Along with lots of other details that I’m sure a true viking enthusiast will find fascinating, I found out that the fighting choreographies are based on the actual fighting techniques they used, which, let’s be honest, is awesome. These techniques depend, of course, on the weapon they were wielding at the time. So yeah, you guessed it, the weapons are also culturally accurate.

Fig. 3. Amleth raiding a village berserker style. This review will not go into further detail about how much I enjoyed the fights in The Northman cause it will turn into a dissertation. Source: The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022).

But enough about the accuracy, there is another big highlight worth discussing in The Northman: the photography. The way this movie is shot as well as how the images have been edited give really strong Valhalla Rising vibes. And no, this is not a criticism, it’s a very high compliment.

Aesthetics

The general undersaturation of a film mixed with the highlighting of certain colours is a very appealing technique when it’s properly used, as it fortunately is in The Northman. It hypnotizes your eyes to stick to the screen for the whole duration of the film.

Fig. 4. The viking king returns from his travels in a shot where pretty much the only source of color is a faded sunflower yellow from the dry grass.
Source: The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022).

Sadly, not everything in the movie was great. Some shots were a bit problematic in the sense that they felt more like a Loewe advertisement rather than an actual movie. This, I’m afraid, might have something to do with Anna Taylor-Joy’s performance.

Dream or advertisement?

I haven’t followed her career much due to me completely loathing her performances in Split and in Glass and, while it was very promising to see a great improvement in her acting since then, it still feels like her expression range does not go further than a couple of gestures. This can pull you out of the story.

It is a shame really that a little thing like that spoils the experience, but when you’re watching a very dramatic and heart wrenching scene and your reaction is to start laughing (true story), there is something clearly wrong with the way it is being delivered.

Fig. 5. Is it Amleth’s vision about Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy)? Is it the new Loewe Mistletoe spray freshener? You’ll never know. Good news is that it’s the only moment of The Northman that this review can criticise. Source: The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022).

What’s your take on The Northman?

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