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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Robert Eggers
scr Sjon, Robert Eggers
prd Lars Knudsen, Mark Huffam, Robert Eggers, Alexander Skarsgard, Arnon Milchan
with Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Bjork, Elliott Rose, Phill Martin, Eldar Skar, Olwen Fouere, Edgar Abram
release UK 15.Apr.22,
22/UK Universal 2h16
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With his remarkable attention to folkloric detail, filmmaker Robert Eggers takes on Viking mythology in this bloodthirsty meditation on revenge. It's relentlessly intense, packed with bold characters whose passions are expressed both in tenderness as well as explosions of grisly violence. And even as the film uses nightmarish imagery to evoke ancient ideas about fate and responsibility, the occasional moment of camp excess keeps it from becoming over-serious.
In the year 895, Norse King Aurvandil (Hawke) is murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Bang), who steals Queen Gudrun (Kidman) along with the kingdom. Barely escaping, Prince Amleth (Skarsgard) grows up pledging to rescue his mother and kill his uncle. Along the way, he also becomes a ruthless berserker warrior, eventually tracking Fjolnir to his new home in Iceland. To blend in, Amleth poses as a slave on Fjolnir's farm, plotting with fellow servant Olga (Taylor-Joy) to enact his violent plan. But Fjolnir's arrogant son Thorir (Lindh) is keeping a watchful eye on Amleth.
Awash in mud and blood, the film's design work creates an intense atmosphere in which this pulsating story can unfold with power, violence and deep emotion. The medieval Danish Prince Amleth is the inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet, and this script hones in on the Norse origins of his legend, with moments of magical realism that reveal profound ideas. Meanwhile, the narrative itself twists and writhes in unexpected directions that make it impossible to predict the jaw-dropping final act.
Thankfully, the elaborate costumes and wigs never distract from the performances, as each actor digs deeply to find earthy underlying motivations. Skarsgard has a beefy presence as the hard-muscled Amleth, flawed only by his all-consuming sense of vengeance. And his scenes with the excellent Taylor-Joy and a particularly on-fire Kidman are riveting. Bang finds surprising edges in Fjolnir's journey, while extended cameos for Dafoe (as an in-your-face jester) and Bjork (as an eerie oracle) are rather fabulous.
With a handful of notable exceptions, most of the characters blur into a rampaging horde as the film surges from one blistering action set-piece to the next. Grotesque barbarity is everywhere, thankfully not always on-camera, and the churning central plot propels the characters forward with serious intent. So confrontations are staggeringly harsh and deepened with a real sense of feeling, while the tender moments also get under the skin. And as it explores the question of whether it's possible to change your fate, the film finds surprisingly moving resonance.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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