Director Robert Eggers seemingly came out of nowhere and burst onto the Hollywood scene with his feature film debut, The Witch. Starring a somewhat young and mostly unknown actress named Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night In Soho), the movie was highly stylized, unique in tone, and slightly bizarre. It not only introduced Eggers to the world, but it also showcased Taylor-Joy and helped to make her a household name in this country.
Four years later Eggers once again dazzled the film industry with his sophomore outing, The Lighthouse. Starring Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) and Robert Pattinson (The Batman) it once again showcased Eggers bizarre yet skillful talent for storytelling. This week, with his latest movie, The Northman, Eggers offers audiences a glimpse of what Viking life may have been centuries ago.
When he was a young man, Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård; True Blood) watched in secret as his uncle, Fjörlin (Claes Bang; The Girl in the Spider's Web), murdered Amleth's father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke; Moon Knight) and took his mother, Queen Gundrún (Nicole Kidman; Moulin Rouge!). Fearing for his own life, Amleth ran away and grew up among a Viking horde, pillaging their way through Europe. One day he stows away on a slave ship and returns to his homeland, unrecognized by his uncle. Over time, he earns the trust of Fjörlin and his sons while secretly terrorizing them and killing his uncle's men. With the help of a sorceress, Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), Amleth plans to free his mother and leave but once he learns the awful truth, his world is shattered forever.
Eggers' first two films gave him enough clout that on this third foray into filmmaking he was able to choose from a wide array of talent. Skarsgård was a brilliant casting choice because, with his tall frame, athletic build, and Swedish skin/hair color, he easily slips into the role of a Viking living several hundred years ago. Taylor-Joy, who first came to Hollywood's attention in Eggers' first film, The Witch, is almost ethereal with her light touch and soft-spoken words. Kidman portrays the Queen with a warm exterior that masks the ruthless woman underneath. Hawke and Bang are well-matched as brothers and adversaries, but they are merely tools to push the plot along and to give Amleth the motivation needed to become the man he does.
There is no arguing that Eggers is a brilliant director, but I tend to find his endings to be unsatisfying and I walk away from his films angry, melancholy, and wanting something more. His artistic vision is unique, and all his work seems to have a haziness to them with a grayish, blue tint. The Northman is no exception and includes beautiful vistas, a solid story based on folklore and history, and supernatural people and events that defy explanation.
Eggers did his research before co-writing the script and directing The Northman because many of the rituals presented in the film are believed to be historically accurate. This adds legitimacy to the movie that otherwise could have been a cheesy parody of Viking life. Unfortunately, this accuracy also extends to the grittier parts of the film and battle scenes are overly grotesque with flesh and blood flung everywhere.
Interestingly, The Northman is Eggers longest movie to date but that may be part of its downfall. While seemingly historically accurate and offering a story of betrayal, love, and honor, the movie drags in the middle and could have benefited from a little bit more editing.
Eggers has solidified his legacy as a wonderful director and there are no doubts, he will be making movies, possibly even Oscar-worthy ones, for many years to come. The Northman is easily identifiable as an Eggers movie that includes a great cast, haunting soundtrack, and incredible visuals. All he needs is to chop off about twenty minutes of the film, so it doesn't drag and slow down midway through.