FILM REVIEW: “The Northman” is Hamlet with a bloody, Viking twist

Published 12:02 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

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“The Northman”

Focus Features

Directed by Robert Eggers

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

Rated R

3 Stars

Director Robert Eggers made his name by crafting visually stunning horror films like “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse.”

Perhaps that explains why fans are salivating in anticipation for his latest film, “The Northman,” which is a standard revenge drama, but one soaked in Egger’s unique artistic vision.

This is the story of a young Viking prince whose world is upended when his uncle (Claes Bang) murders his father (Ethan Hawke) and then takes his mother (Nicole Kidman).

The prince escapes, vowing to one day avenge his father, save his mother and to kill his uncle. Fast forward 20 years and the prince is now played by Alexander Skarsgård. The rest of the story is a bloody tale of revenge with a nasty Viking twist.

Apparently, this is all based on an old Scandinavian myth that Shakespeare used as the basis for “Hamlet.” That may be true, but the Bard never focused on half-naked Viking berserkers wreaking death and destruction on all they attack — although I would pay good money to see that version of “Hamlet” performed at the community theater playhouse.

Once again, Eggers deserves credit for his stunning cinematography and production design.

The images in this film are so beautiful that it almost feels like an arthouse black and white film; one where the visuals are elevated above everything else.

Much of the credit for this goes to the Icelandic setting, but Eggers certainly gives these locations an otherworldly sense that is quite memorable.

I was also impressed by his fight choreography, which unfolds in long, uninterrupted shots that put you right down in the middle of the chaotic battles.

Combine that with an oppressive sound design and you get some of the most-brutal combat sequences ever committed to film.

That won’t appeal to all audiences, but let’s give the man credit for effectively transporting us back into the nightmare of the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, I’m not as impressed by the acting performances.

The cast looks wonderful in their period garb, but the characters bring more surface-level impressions here than true emotional depth.

At its heart, “The Northman” ends up being a rather standard revenge story. I do appreciate that there are a few unexpected twists in the movie’s final act, but that’s not enough to excuse the by-the-numbers slog through the film’s middle portion.

So, I suspect that your enjoyment of “The Northman” will be directly tied to how much you appreciate Eggers as a director. If you are a fan of his stunning images and unique storytelling, then there is plenty here to love.

But if you come at this from the high brow “Hamlet” side of things, the characters and plot will probably strike you as being somewhat pedestrian.

As for me, I am a sucker for stunning visuals, and I had no trouble being immersed in the battle, so I really enjoyed this film. Still, I won’t deny that I was hoping for more from Robert Eggers Viking epic.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at