Review: Brutal ‘Northman’ a potent blend of fire and ice

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“The Northman” is cinema at its most visceral, raw and brutal.

Mercurial filmmaker Robert Eggers – hitherto known professionally for obscure horror picture ‘The Witch’ and his dark ‘The Lighthouse’ – turns his piercing eyes to the world of Vikings and Iceland, circa the 10th century .

The New Hampshire native oversees “The Northman” with a premise taken from the Danish novel “Saxo Grammaticus” (i.e., Story of the Danes). Its story is partially derived from the childhood of the Viking prince Amleth, from whom Shakespeare chose “Hamlet”.

As the film unfolds and takes shape, Eggers’ gritty approach feels a natural match. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it on the big screen since Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2015 wild masterpiece, “The Revenant.”

Much like most “epics” of its genre, the new image is slow to catch on as a boy proves his mettle by – wait for it – acting like a dog alongside his royal father (a shaggy Ethan Hawke and steep). The queen and boy’s mother (Nicole Kidman) prefers her brother-in-law Fjolnir (Claes Bang), who proceeds to behead the husband and father of their family (now the headless northerner).

Years later, the vengeful man who feels he deserves the throne is a grown man in the form of Alexander Skarsgard, whose chiseled abs are more iconic of Gold’s Gym than the year 914.

It’s the era of the “land grab,” and the proceedings give way to Skarsgard and Anya Taylor-Joy, the latter portraying Olga and a descendant of “The Witch.” Skarsgard is also among the familiar faces here, namely its “Big Little Lies” cohort Kidman.

Lovebirds Amleth and Olga, for all intents and purposes, serve as slaves to Fjolnir and the queen while working to avenge the king’s murder. Themes of revenge, honour, lust and power emerge; there will be blood, in addition to guts, swords, burping and flatulence, sex and nudity.

Willem Dafoe, who co-starred in “The Lighthouse,” made a debut appearance but seems to be cast this time around strictly for his unmistakable face. There is also the Icelandic musician Bjork, almost unrecognizable as a mystical clairvoyant.

It is strange to report that the talented Kidman does not thrive in this area; Eggers focuses on her porcelain face and glowing eyes – and the role could have been played by almost any actress.

When scenes aren’t framed by Iceland’s windswept, overcast landscape and forms of fire – torches, improvised campfires and arson – they take on battleship-like ash grays and rusty, dead-brown hues. . Time and again, Eggers punches through the film’s rigid scaffolding with everything from subtitles to a deadly sporting event and a climactic duel.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were eight upcoming attraction trailers at the cineplex I attended, so viewers of “The Northman” will be glued to their seats for over three hours.

Alexander Skarsgard plays the role of Amleth in “The Northman”.

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