Sean’s review published on Letterboxd:
Exceptionally bizarre, which is to be expected given it is *literally* visual poetry. David Lowery provides this film with a palpable melancholy and stillness, which both makes and breaks this film. It makes it because Lowery’s approach twists a timeless myth into a story of honor and the traditional notion of “greatness” and whether or not that still holds value. That question is reflected in Dev Patel’s wonderfully subtle and emotional performance, personifying a man who constantly questions the nature of his life and pursuits, a man whose values are tested and broken before his eyes in a number of strange, surreal encounters. This is not a classic medieval story. The medieval setting is a framework for a story that challenges and questions traditional “knightly” values and poses a narrative constantly in flux between holding those values to a high standard and criticizing those who pretend to hold their lives and deeds to that standard, but most likely hide behind the same cowardice Gawain exhibits in his trials. This isn’t a commonly explored theme, and I first was skeptical of its relevance outside of the medieval period and the prominence of “knightly” values at the time, but by the absolutely *stunning* finale, the relevance becomes clear. The fact that a 3 act character arc was fit into a 10 minute, practically wordless montage of expression and shame is one of the greatest narrative feats I’ve seen as of late. Incredible stuff.
On the other hand, there’s something very odd about both the pacing and the surreal elements that didn’t really work for me holistically. For one, much of the surreal and fantastical parts of this story feel very out of place in a narrative so focused on humanity and the characteristics of humanity. But also this film is so glacially paced that my ultimate reaction was boredom and not reflection. That’s not a blanket criticism; there are moments of true beauty here. It looks absolutely beautiful and some of the seemingly nonsensical parts of the narrative (i.e. the giants) were really enchanting. But the plot at times just grinds to a halt in moments like the Lord’s house and I just can’t say the film kept me invested in those moments. This is not a knock against slow movies but I think it’s inconsistent in which parts were captivating and which parts were monotonous. That said, when this works, it’s outstanding. The last 15-20 minutes or so is the best film of the year. I am eager to rewatch but I’m so glad I caught one of the last nearby screenings in theaters, even if I’m a little lukewarm overall.