It appears that Alexander Skarsgård was born to play the legendary Amleth, a Viking warrior prince. Looking amazingly buff, he epitomizes the very essence of what one would expect from such a character. Directed by Robert Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón, THE NORTHMAN is a bloody excellent adventure that hasn’t been around in movie theaters for quite some time.
Beginning in 895 A.D., King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), after a long absence, has just returned to his kingdom along the Irish coast. He was severely injured in battle and wishes to spend time with his young son, Amleth (Oscar Novak), instead of his Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman).
Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe), a he-witch, presides over a spiritual Norse ceremony where the father and son crawl around on all fours, howling and yelping like wild animals, passing the torch of leadership from king to prince. But the next morning, the king’s brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), arrives, kills Amleth’s father and tries to murder Amleth, who escapes by boat after watching his mother being carried off. He vows to avenge his father’s death, save his mother and kill his uncle.
Years later, Amleth (Skarsgård) makes his way via a slave ship to Iceland, where Fjölnir, having lost his kingdom, is now living with Gudrún and their son, Gunnar. On board the boat, he meets Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy) with whom he falls in love. Enslaved by Fjölnir, they plot Amleth’s revenge and their escape.
THE NORTHMAN is a wild ride. It’s dark, violent, gory and very entertaining. Skarsgård is utterly transformed. We’ve seen him play evil before as Kidman’s abusive husband in “Big Little Lies”, but this role is uniquely different. He is a Norse god --- pure and simple. It’s more than understandable why Skarsgård worked so many years to bring a Viking-themed movie to the silver screen.
Taylor-Joy and Kidman are also resplendent as the two queens. Kidman is just slightly shy of being over the top as
Gudrún, especially when she’s trying to seduce her own son, Amleth. Both women look the part, with Taylor-Joy absolutely captivating as the Nordic sorceress.
Eggers filmed this epic in Iceland and Ireland with Jarin Blaschke serving as his cinematographer. The vistas are breathtaking --- and bleak. One can truly “feel” the dreary cold depicted in scene after scene. And the final battle confrontation at The Gates of Hell --- an active volcano --- between Amleth and Fjölnir is masterfully choreographed and filmed.
There is noting boring about THE NORTHMAN. At two hours and sixteen minutes David did not doze off once. Either he’s getting better at staying awake or the movies are getting better. Personally, I think it’s the latter.
Opinion: See It Now!
Alexander Skarsgård started thinking about a Viking movie he could produce and also star in over 10 years ago. The prolific actor has never shied away from challenging roles, and in THE NORTHMAN, directed by Robert Eggers, he may have outdone even himself.
With an emphasis on Iceland where much of the movie is filmed, Eggers and his co-writer, Iceland-born Sjón, focused on the Icelandic Sagas and a Scandinavian legend but still ended up with an original story. As for Skarsgård, he and Eggers wanted to create a hulking Viking with a massive physique --- and did they ever succeed! I thought photoshop might be at work here, but it really is his body and it must be seen to be believed.
Skarsgård worked with a Swedish personal trainer and nutritionist and part of the requirement to build up his Herculean body was to eat five times a day. He plays the adult Prince Amleth who at the age of 10 (Oscar Novak) witnesses the slaying and beheading of his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), by his uncle Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang). Amleth flees the country but vows to avenge his dead father and his very much alive mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman).
Amleth’s revenge is the underlying motivating factor in THE NORTHMAN. His thirst for vengeance far exceeds his desire for a “normal” family life. His tender relationship with the sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) is as authentic as his berserk behavior as a Viking on a mission. Taylor-Joy proves her previous successes were no fluke in her mesmerizing performance here. This production reunites her with Eggers from his 2015 film THE WITCH, her feature film debut.
THE NORTHMAN is not a family affair --- leave the kids at home. It features gruesome violence and bizarrely sadistic methods of killing. This was, after all, the Dark Ages in the 10th century. Willem Dafoe has a pivotal role as Heimir the Fool and Björk, the Icelandic singer, returns to the big screen for a cameo as the Seeress, an even more important turn.
The cast members all agree on Eggers’ attention to detail and his involved relationship with all the actors, supporting or principal. Taylor-Joy relates an instance when filming in Northern Ireland, and Eggers’ direction was for the actors to “look cold and miserable”. “I am cold and miserable” she retorted --- no acting required.
Eggers in his painstaking research set out to change the perception of Vikings as sci-fi rock stars to real people with human qualities, not the least of which is a deep desire for revenge. His film features a scene with slaves battling each other in front of a royal audience, influenced no doubt by the gladiatorial encounters of ancient Rome. The Vikings also played a game called Knattleikr, much like lacrosse, on display in THE NORTHMAN. They had to have some down time from all their pillaging and avenging!
At two hours and sixteen minutes, THE NORTHMAN moves quickly. Whether it’s Skarsgård’s transformation to a hulking brute or Kidman’s personification of an evil woman, I could not take my eyes off the screen. Interestingly, 12th century Danish history accounts of Vikings evolved into Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and later “The Lion King”.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!