The Northman Review: A mad, brutal, and absolutely brilliant Viking epic


The Northman Five Stars In Theaters; certificate 16

had to lie down afterwards The Northman. A brutal, blood-soaked Viking epic based on a Scandinavian legend – the same legend that inspired William Shakespeare hamlet – Director Robert Eggers’ third film is probably his hardest. No one in this thing comes out unscathed.

Someone loses a nose. Someone else’s heart was ripped out of their chest. At one point, Alexander Skarsgård’s Amleth – the battered, tormented anti-hero of our thundering fable – tears a man’s throat open with his teeth. Yes, it’s difficult. It is also a small masterpiece.

Our worship of The Northman has little to do with the level of violence on screen (rightfully so, considering our Viking friends hardly ever settled things through friendly talk) but more to do with the craftsmanship, scale and skill that went into the creation of the first big blockbusters of the year have flowed.

That Eggers, the American filmmaker best known for left-field lo-fi art house horror (The witch, the lighthouse), managed to create such a bold, such ambitious image without sacrificing an ounce of his trademark eccentricity is amazing.

This could well be Egger’s big close-up, a career-defining turning point as the New Hampshire native goes from critical darling to box office hit. Given that The Northmanfilmed largely in Ireland cost a staggering $90 million (€83 million), big studio investors will be hoping for the same.

You’ll be familiar with the classic setup, which, while laced with all sorts of chaos and mysticism, is admirably straightforward. A Norse warrior king (Aurvandil by Ethan Hawke) returns from battle with only one thing on his mind: preparing his son, young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak), for the throne.

Unfortunately, the king’s brother (Claes Bangs Fjölnir) has other plans, and poor Amleth witnesses his father’s murder at the hands of his treacherous uncle. You know how to do that. Fjolnir and her henchmen plunder the village. The ghastly uncle intrudes on Amleth’s terrified mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Our heartbroken young protagonist jumps on a boat, flees his home and slowly, very slowly plots his comeback.

The plan is simple: the boy will one day return to avenge his father’s death, rescue his mother and, if it’s not too much trouble, slaughter Fjölnir along the way. Good thing Amleth is growing into Alexander Skarsgård, a man whose muscles have muscles.

A tight, exciting, often frightening spectacle, The Northman plays with the usual conventions of its peers and predecessors. You can half imagine Ridley Scott enjoying this story (there are shades of gladiator in the mix), and Eggers’ film occasionally feels like a grueling, gruesome one Ben Hur.

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Its extreme violence can be hard to stomach, but again, this is a Norse revenge story. Somehow Eggers – who works with Icelandic writer Sjón – maintains the bold, evil fantasy of his earlier films with a selection of sequences that, while downright insane, allows for it The Northman to stand out from the crowd.

Björk (the only one) emerges as a haunting seer. Willem Dafoe prances and babbles about the place as the play’s obligatory jester. Later, after a Conan-esque Amleth finds its way to Fjolnir and tricks his uncle into thinking he’s just another of his slaves, our burly protagonist unwillingly takes part in a vicious, blood-spattered sport that looks a lot like slingshots. Yes, this thing is pretty weird – but it works.

With so much rain, sweat and dirt on the screen, would you believe me if I told you The Northman – beautifully photographed by American cameraman Jarin Blaschke – was something beautiful? Rarely has a film this disturbing looked so stunning. It helps that the Eggers cast are bringing their A-game.

Hawke (muscled, commanding) and Kidman (more Gertude than Gudrún) fully embrace Shakespeare. Anya Taylor-Joy’s raunchy, haunted charms are a perfect match for Olga, the beguiling sorceress who captures Amleth’s heart. But this is Skarsgård’s film, and the Swedish giant is outrageously good as a gnarled warrior whose questionable methods make him an almost impossible character to root for. And yet you can’t take your eyes off him. Skarsgård’s animal presence is at the heart of this towering, triumphant display ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Even when published

Operation Mincemeat
Four stars
Now displayed; Certificate 12A

Post-Blitz London, spy games in Soho nightclubs, a lunatic Allied plan to deceive the Fuhrer – Operation Mincemeat is a Sunday roast of a movie. John Madden’s Tally-ho war drama is based on Ben MacIntyre’s 1943 book about the conspiracy of the same name, but is assembled as a ship-shaped spy thriller with a powerful British-tastic cast.

Colin Firth does his usual trick of anchoring everything somehow. He plays Intelligence officer Ewen Montagu, who along with his sideman Charles Cholmondeley (successor‘s Matthew Macfadyen), hatches a plan to divert Nazi attention from an Allied invasion of Sicily.

A misinformed corpse is planted in the Mediterranean, but first a fully watertight identity must be conjured up. Colleagues (Kelly Macdonald and Penelope Wilton) help with the brainstorming, but Jason Isaac’s admiral and Churchill himself (Simon Russell Beale) have to convince. A love triangle is one of many complications.

This is achieved by doing the simple things well. Watch out for Johnny Flynn as Officer Ian Fleming, a co-conspirator who would later give the world James Bond.

Hilary White

Three stars
IFI and selected cinemas; certificate 18

Renaissance Tuscany – Plague is sweeping the land and popes act like warlords. Benedetta (Virginie Efira) is a sister in a rural convent who has fantastic visions of Jesus. This and stigmata lead to her gaining in importance, which Charlotte Rampling’s mother Superior initially sees as an opportunity.

When Benedetta begins an affair with a fellow sister (Daphne Patakia), a line is crossed and the mother superior turns to the nuncio (Lambert Wilson) for the full wrath of canon law.

had Benedetta published a few decades ago, its mix of lesbian nuns and blasphemous imagery may very well have prompted many to clutch rosary beads. In truth, there is nothing wrong with this latest work from the always provocative Paul Verhoeven (primal instinct) that you wouldn’t find in it game of thrones one Monday evening.

With that out of the way Benedetta is certainly a fascinating and elaborately staged parable of the oppression of women and homosexuals under religious patriarchy. For a saga grounded in historical fact, its CGI dream sequences and off-putting hanky-panky lend the whole thing a surprisingly camp air.

Hilary White

The Lost City
Three stars
In the cinema; Certificate 12A

A romance novelist and her handsome male companion find themselves in the middle of a real jungle adventure – stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Yes, we’re in deep Romanticize the stone Territory here, and the ever-welcome Sandra Bullock is Loretta Sage, a depressed author who hasn’t left the house since the death of her husband, who is an archaeologist. Worrying agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) desperately wants Loretta to promote her latest bonkbuster alongside her dashing cover model, Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum).

No sooner has Loretta started her book tour than she is roughly kidnapped by a demented billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe’s Abigail Fairfax) who demands that — oh, you’re ahead of me, aren’t you? yes there is a sweetheart Yes, pretty Beefcake is trying to save Loretta from a dangerous island. And yes, the sparks start to fly in this rickety adventure comedy.

The Lost City is far too derivative for its own good and is seldom as smart as it thinks it is. However, Bullock’s comic skills are immaculate as ever, Tatum proves a suitable partner, and good old Brad Pitt rewards our patience with a scene-stealing cameo as a smoldering action man. It is enough.

Chris Wasser The Northman Review: A mad, brutal, and absolutely brilliant Viking epic

Fry Electronics Team

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