The Northman

The Northman ★★★★

Hither came Hamlet the Dane, blonde-haired, sullen-eyed, stoop-shouldered, sword in hand, a berserker, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and even gigantic-er melancholies, to tread the muddy hills of Iceland and probably Ireland-as-Iceland under his undoubtedly calloused and leathery feet...

The Northman gives us Hamlet by way of Weird Tales, and I’m down for it. The cast are all spectacular, especially Alexander Skarsgård, whose head-forward, stooping lope turns the dream of him striding towards you with purpose into the stuff of nightmares. Willem Dafoe gives you what you hire Willem Dafoe for. And, in a cast of clowns you eagerly want to see decapitated, Gustav Lindh manages to present the most punchable face in the Age of Vikings.

But, for all its epic cinematography and crazy ambitious average shot length, there feels like something’s missing. It’s still great, mind you, and the sword and sorcery film I’ve been waiting for most of my life. For all its blood, mud, and bare buttocks, The Northman lacks the visceral power of a Rolling Thunder, Braveheart, Blue Ruin, Hold the Dark, or even Eggers’ own The VVitch. Despite what the studio may think, it is still kind of Shakespearean and formal. There are no surprises here.

Does the dog die? Of course, but there’s also a surprising (damn… one surprise, I guess...) amount of horse decapitation, which I can only assume is historical. Though, as far as the animals go, I remain #TeamRavens.

Go see it. It’s good. It deserves your dollar or whatever the coin of your realm. We need more projects like this. I just want the next one to come for my head like it means it.

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