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”The Northman” Film Review

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

”The Northman” is an absolutely visceral and totally absorbing experience, suggesting great things are in store for director Robert Eggers.

It is the turn of the 10th century and Viking king Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns to his kingdom from raids overseas. There, he reunites with his son Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) and begins to prepare him for the task of ruling his kingdom someday. But, it is not to be. Fjölnir (Claes Bang), Aurvandill’s brother and Amleth’s uncle, betrays the king, murders him and takes his kingdom. Young Amleth barely escapes, vowing to avenge his murdered father in the future.

Many years go by, and the next time we see Amleth he is a grown man, a huge, hulking berserker part of a band of Vikings pillaging towns and villages far and wide. While on a raid in the Rus’ kingdom in Eastern Europe, Amleth encounters a seeress, who foretells that he will soon have the opportunity to take his revenge on Fjölnir. Amleth dresses as a slave and smuggles himself on board a slave ship bound for Iceland, where Fjölnir now lives in exile on a farm after having lost his kingdom. That is where Amleth is headed, hoping to find the perfect opportunity to exact vengeance on his father’s murderer.

From the very opening shot, it is clear that Robert Eggers is not like other directors. ”The Northman” is his third film, following in the same vein of his previous two movies, The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), in that it takes place in a historical setting and is loosely inspired by the mythology and folklore of that setting. And just like in his previous two movies, Eggers succeeds brilliantly in transporting the viewer back to a very specific period of time in history. From the very first scene, it is obvious just how much painstaking research is behind every detail. From the clothing, to the buildings, to the ships and the weapons, the feel of the movie is authentic all the way through. The world created in ”The Northman” from the fusion of the authentic depiction of the viking age, and the mythological aspects, results in an absorbing spectacle.

Thanks to Egger’s direction and attention to detail, the film feels incredibly grounded. A world so deeply historically rooted, mixed with Norse mythology and the supernatural as created in ”The Northman”, provides a perfect setting for an epic revenge story.

Sure, there are some plot contrivances that propel the story forward in a way that sometimes feels forced. But the directing and performances of the actors makes you look past those inconsistencies. Alexander Skarsgård goes all-in in portraying the vengeful Amleth. Claes Bang is phenomenal as Fjölnir and gives the character depth, who we find has other sides to him than the one we see in the beginning that makes Amleth hate him so much.

”The Northman” has a runtime of 137 minutes, but feels more like 90. The entire film is a relentless assault of intensity, violence, mythology and a very special atmosphere that makes it impossible to look away. With ”The Northman” Robert Eggers cements his place as one of the most unique filmmakers working today, constanly pushing boundaries and exploring new territory. And considering the path he is now on, Eggers’ future looks bright indeed.


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