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"THE NORTHMAN"
(2022) (Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action: A late 9th-century Viking plots to avenge his father's past murder at the hands of that king's treacherous brother.
PLOT:

It's the North Atlantic in 895 A.D. and King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) has returned home after a long time away. He shuns the amorous intent of his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), so that he may impart wisdom to their young son, Amleth (Oscar Novak), mainly about one day succeeding him as king and avenging his death if necessary.

That ends up coming to fruition when the king's brother, Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang), murders Aurvandil and takes the queen for himself, with Amleth barely escaping with his life.

Years later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), is a fierce warrior who learns of his treacherous uncle's whereabouts and decides the only way to get to him is to pretend to be a slave. He ends up sailing for Iceland among other slaves, including Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy). Both end up working for Fjölnir and his adult son, Thórir the Proud (Gustav Lindh), while Gudrún dotes over their young son, Gunnar (Elliott Rose). Continuing with his ruse, Amleth bides his time, plotting with Olga to get his revenge.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

There's the old quote that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The best solution, of course, while not easy, is to forgive the person who's wronged you, thus dissipating those toxic chemicals from one's system. While that's usually the best course in real life, it doesn't make for the most exciting fictional storytelling.

And that's why most such stories revolve around revenge of some sort. You know the kind that Khan described in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" as "best served cold." And some of the more memorable retaliation fueled movies are the kind that transpire (or simmer, if you will) over a considerable amount of time, rather than as an immediate reaction.

Beyond the "Trek" flick, films such as "Mad Max," "Braveheart," "Gladiator," and "The Revenant" come to mind as epic style examples featuring the wronged protagonist and his slow-burn fueled, "I'm gonna get you for what you did" motivation. And now you can add "The Northman" to that list.

Directed by Robert Eggers from a script he co-wrote with Sjón (a.k.a. Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson), the brutal, rugged, and captivating offering continues the helmer's previous forays into the cinematic past following "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse."

It's clearly not for all audiences -- especially the squeamish and/or those turned off by violence -- and its pacing is sometimes challenging when the weapons aren't in use. But for those who like or at least respect their cold revenge served with a heaping dose of artistry, this starts to approach the top end of that.

Part "Excalibur," part "The Green Knight" and part "Death Wish," the film begins with an extended prologue set in the North Atlantic in the late 9th century. It's there and then that King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns home from battle, welcomed by his wife, the queen (Nicole Kidman), who invites him to their bed.

Instead, and for reasons to be explained in due time, he wants to impart some leadership wisdom to his young son (Oscar Novak). Including that should he be struck down, the boy's mission in life will be to avenge his demise. And…cue some treacherous murder and the boy barely escaping with his now shattered life. Albeit one with a singular, overriding purpose.

Jump forward a number of years and Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is now a fierce Viking warrior who helps raid a rival settlement with brutal efficiency. It's there that he overhears that his treacherous uncle (Claes Bang) has been unseated and taken his small kingdom to the fire and ice locale of Iceland where he rules with his queen (Kidman), jerky young adult son (Gustav Lindh), and that guy's younger half-brother (Elliott Rose).

Cutting his long locks and literally branding himself a slave to gain passage to the remote land, he sets off on his revenge tour, making an ally and possible future romantic partner with another slave (the always beguiling and mesmerizing Anya Taylor-Joy) along the way.

Armed with an Excalibur caliber sword but feeling the need to wait until the prophecy time is right to strike, Amleth bides his time. That might not sit well with viewers impatient for some more immediate bloodlust style comeuppance, but for those willing to wait, Eggers and his crew deliver on all artistic fronts. The cinematography, editing, score, production design and more are all on another level, buoyed by strong performances (especially from Skarsgård and Taylor-Joy) and some unexpected plot twists and turns.

All of which results in an intense, brutal, and captivating two-plus hours of watching bad people pay for their past deeds. Yes, revenge is cold, but in "The Northman," it arrives in a top-notch artistic package. The film rates a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed April 12, 2022 / Posted April 22, 2022


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