Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: A Viking Prince swears brutal revenge after witnessing his father’s death at the hands of his traitorous uncle…

Review: Over the last few years, there have been several up-and-coming directors who have made a significant impact with their careers, establishing their reputations as sought after talent, with every film they make becoming event-worthy. One such director would be Robert Eggers. His first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with a combined budget of $15million, became indie darlings that were both released to critical acclaim. With that success to his name, it has given Eggers the platform to go all out, backed by a studio’s considerably larger budget (between $70 and 90 million), and make his biggest and most visually striking film to date.

Prince Amleth is a happy young Viking boy living with his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Aurvandill is aware that the time will come for Amleth to one day assume the responsibilities of King in his stead. However, before Aurvandill can properly prepare him for his role as King, Auravandill is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Faced with the prospect of certain death at his uncle’s hands, Amleth is forced to flee but vows brutal revenge against his Uncle for his crimes. Several decades later, the now-adult Amleth (Skarsgård) has transformed into a fierce and brutal Viking warrior. Having lost sight of his original mission for vengeance, a chance meeting with a seeress (a brilliant cameo by Icelandic singer Björk), reminds him of the promise he made to himself all those years ago.

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

Based on the legend of Amleth, which served as the inspiration for the character of Hamlet in the famous play by Shakespeare, Eggers and the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have crafted a screenplay that is so steeped in the richness of Norse mythology, that there probably could be a whole short film devoted to the extensive research that undoubtedly went into the making of the film. While it is first and foremost a tale of one man’s mission for revenge, Eggers takes a lot of time in the first act to establish the culture and the mythology that was central to the civilisation at the time, while simultaneously incorporating the visually striking aesthetics he’s renowned for.  By taking his time to explore the complexities of Norse mythology, Eggers is able to immerse his audiences with scenes of wild rituals, songs and spells and sacrifices. While it is true that at its heart, the plot is very much one man’s quest for bloody revenge against the man who committed a terrible atrocity against him many years ago. However, that does the plot a disservice, as there’s so much more meat on the bones to this story.

Such a physical and brutal film requires a committed leading performance, and in Alexander Skarsgård’s leading turn as Amleth, you have that and then some. His physical transformation for this role is extremely impressive, practically at times having transformed himself into a terrifying feral creature that’s more animal than man. He’s an absolute behemoth of a warrior that you would categorically not want to find yourself in battle with. While his physical prowess cannot be denied, there’s unfortunately not a lot of room for character development, beyond his desire for revenge. The character of Fjölnir could have been a very cliched villain who commits an act of betrayal against his family out of jealousy towards his brother. But as a terrifying and ruthless antagonist, Claes Bang imbues him with nuances and motivations that flesh him out.

Re-teaming with Eggers, after The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Olga is perhaps the character who is given the most development as the sorceress Olga. A witch who’s resourceful and with a cunning intellect, she works closely with Amleth to help him achieve his goal. A further reunion comes in the form of Willem Dafoe, who is clearly having a riot in his small but significant role of Helmir the Fool. Given she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in the first two acts, you’d have been forgiven for forgetting Kidman was even in the film at all. However, this all dramatically changes as she really stamps her authority onto the scene during the climactic third act.

As this is a tale about vengeance, some violence was inevitable, but this time around, Eggers holds nothing back. The violence is uncompromisingly brutal that will test even the strongest of stomachs. The thrum of the booming drums that make up a considerable chunk of the score is the perfect complement to the sweeping visual majesty of the rip-roaring spectacle. Even with one or two pacing issues in and around the middle, it’s not enough to drag down the sheer epicness of what Eggers brings to this tale. Into the halls of Valhalla, we go!

Bloody, ferocious and wildly entertaining, with an exceptional cast and an extraordinarily committed leading performance from Skarsgård, an ascension into the halls of the greatest revenge films of all time awaits.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Boyhood (2014)

boyhood-poster
Images rights belong to IFC Films

Boyhood – Film Review

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Director: Richard Linklater

Synopsis:  The story of one boy’s journey from childhood to adulthood

Review: Benjamin Franklin once said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While it is true that these are a certainty in anyone’s life, there is much more to life on this earth then these two things. Thus, it is an unprecedented feat indeed that a film that was 12 years in the making that sought to capture life, all the trials and tribulations that we as human beings go through. Richard Linklater has pulled off a remarkable feat in this respect. The sheer ambition of the project, and the hard work and effort that undoubtedly went into the production of this film does deserve praise. This film was a gamble and for plenty of people it paid off big time, for others, not so much…

The film follows six year old Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane growing up in the USA with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his mother (Patricia Arquette) while his dad, portrayed by long time Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke as they go about their lives. There are certain things that audience members can relate to, particularly if they had a sibling growing up. Pop culture references are there in abundance and in that the film does have things that we can all relate to as the years go by. The actors naturally age as their characters evolve on screen and it is intriguing to watch as they naturally age.

However, despite this innovative idea, the movie falls flat as there is no plot to speak of. The key job of a film is to tell a good story, but that good story is really lacking here, rendering it is difficult to maintain interest in what is happening on screen. The film trickles along from one scene to the next with very little coherency and painfully boring scenes in which characters just tend to talk, mope around, whine or be abusive. The scenes are at times painfully tedious. There is no powerful emotional punch, no hard-hitting moment that leaves you reeling. Life is full of those key moments, the moments that will stay with a person forever.

For instance, completing school, graduation, getting a job for the first time, moving away from home. These moments are usually full of emotion for people and their families and they should have an impact here, as everyone goes through what Mason goes through but they don’t, they really really do not, and that is a major disappointment.

With 12 years to shoot the film you would think the acting on show here could and maybe should be top notch, yet in many of the performances, there was no spark. Being cast as a six year old was probably a daunting task for the young lead and in all fairness he does get better as the years go by, but in spite of this, his acting still felt a bit wooden at times, almost as if he was reading lines. Lorelei Linklater is equally a bit lacklustre at first but she too does grow in her role.  Patricia Arquette gives what some would say is the strongest performance here but again there is no spark, no really hard hitting moment that blows the audience away. Furthermore, her choice in the men she marries leaves a lot to be desired.

However, Ethan Hawke’s turn as the father provides the film with comfortably its strongest performance. An anchor of emotional support when his children needed it most, given the fact that a lot of the time they’re surrounded by deplorable alternative father figures that make you want to throw bricks at the screen. Arquette did sweep the board among the major award ceremonies, but there were lots of better performances that were far more deserving of the prizes.

Much of the praise for this film has been that there isn’t anything like this that has been attempted in cinematic history, and it is true that this film is an unprecedented feat. Yet for all the scope and ambition, the twelve years of hard graft and effort that went into the production of the film, you would hope for a golden end product. The film is relatable in proportions but with all these events that we as human beings go through, you would hope for that emotional moment. The ambition and over a decade of work is an undeniably impressive feat but the quality is severely lacking.

An extremely ambitious idea from Richard Linklater, but great ambition does not always mean great storytelling. One great performance  does not save the film from its tedious scenes, a complete lack of plot and dearth of emotional moments. 

D+