[Screen It]


(2021) (Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander) (R)

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Drama: King Arthur's nephew embarks on a journey to find a mysterious creature that will test every aspect of his being.

Gawain (DEV PATEL) is the adult nephew of King Arthur (SEAN HARRIS), but unlike the knights of the round table, he has no great story to tell about himself. That changes when a mysterious stranger, the Green Knight (RALPH INESON), shows up with a challenge that any blow delivered to him shall be returned in equal measure one year hence. Gawain volunteers, and using his uncle's sword, he beheads the creature. But that doesn't kill the Green Knight who picks up his head and rides off.

Now a year later and the subject of legends about his feat, Gawain leaves behind his lover, Essel (ALICIA VIKANKER), and sets off on a long journey to find the Green Knight and prove his mettle. Along the way, he must contend with his doubts and insecurities as well as encounters with thieves, a ghost, giants, and a couple that has set their respective sights on him.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Back when I was in college and heading toward getting a theater minor, I took a stage lighting course that involved various demo scenes that I had to light. For one, the professor had a good laugh when the gels I selected turned out to cast a decidedly different color tone than they appeared they would.

For another, I did an abstract bit to part of the score from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I thought it was pretty good, and while he appreciated the visual flourishes, he informed me that it didn't tell any sort of story and thus was all flash and little to no substance.

That came to mind while watching "The Green Knight," writer/director David Lowery's adaptation of the 14th century Arthurian poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Visually hypnotic and showing off the impressive skills of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo and his lighting crew, the film feels, at first glance, to be all flash and little substance.

That was my immediate reaction while watching the offering and realizing that there seemingly wasn't much in terms of an actual story, and that some of the impressive individual sequences outshone the overall offering. With some time to let all aspects of the film sink in, I find it more impressive in post-analysis hindsight. That said, I have no idea how a second viewing might go, but I imagine more of the symbolism, themes, and such would come to light.

With that in mind, it's certainly more for the art house cinema crowd than regular moviegoers who might find things a bit boring should they go in expecting some action-filled flick. Instead, it's all about the journey of testing a man's fortitude and the desire and perhaps foolhardiness of wanting and trying to make a name for oneself in the world.

I'm not familiar with the original poem, so I can't state how faithful this filmed adaptation is, but the general story is as follows. When we first see Gawain (a terrific Dev Patel), he appears to be a normal young man of medieval times, happy to while away his day through drink and sex (his lower-class lover is played by Alicia Vikander).

In the presence of King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie), he's called to sit by his majesty, what with being his nephew. Arthur wants Gawain to tell them a story of his deeds, but the young man says he has none. All of which prompts the Queen to reply, "not yet," followed shortly thereafter by the catalyst that will give him that opportunity.

And that's the arrival of the title character (Ralph Ineson), a towering sort of humanoid tree creature who wants to play a Christmas game with someone there. With none of the knights of the round table jumping at the opportunity, Gawain volunteers, with the caveat being that whatever blow he might deliver to the Green Knight, the stranger will get to return in equal force one year hence.

Undeterred and assuming his blow will be permanent, Gawain takes the knight's battle-ax and beheads the creature. But the creature then picks up his head, mounts his horse, and rides off with sickening laughter, reminding the young man of his future date with destiny.

Gawain ends up as something of a celebrity, but the year passes quickly and thus he sets out to keep his end of the bargain. And it's then through encounters with various characters that he's tested. And those range from a trio of strangers to a ghost, a couple who have their individual sights set on him, and several gigantic nude women.

It's hard to tell if some or all of that is imagined as much of it occurs in a surreal fashion, and at one point Lowery does go all "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" with what transpires. While that sequence feels a bit rushed, the rest of the film takes its sweet ol' time both in its individual scenes and as a whole. And that's part of what gives the film its hypnotic vibe in creating indelible visuals and moments that sear into your memory.

I'm guessing a second (or third or fourth) viewing might be necessary to fully grasp what we're being shown, but there's no denying "The Green Knight" is powerful and certainly many steps above and beyond my all flash and no substance lighting project from long ago. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 27, 2021 / Posted July 30, 2021

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