REVIEW: ‘Green Knight’ is a strong, melancholic medieval feature

As an American, I’m not too versed in legends from the British Isles. Fortunately, the themes presented in “The Green Knight” are universal.

Dev Patel stars in the medieval fantasy as Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur. After accepting a challenge one fateful Christmas, Gawain is set on a path where he must go on a quest and face the mysterious Green Knight.

Gawain sets off on the adventure knowing full well that he may likely perish in the journey. However, with greatness at stake, he continues forward with the quest.

Looking at the trailer and some promotional material, “The Green Knight” at first glance looks like a fantasy epic with a mix of magic and sword play. While that all makes an appearance, though, the movie is much more of a somber character piece that explores the concept of mortality.

Instead of focusing on the thrills Gawain comes across in his journey, director and writer David Lowery centers on the decisions the young man makes and how each step reflects the character’s ego, fears and outlook on life. Gawain is an individual who sort of misses the forest for the trees, so focused on the destination that at times he overlooks the lessons of each encounter on his journey.

This aspect makes the film’s final scenes especially strong and drives home the whole point of the film. The movie is rich with meaning and the way Lowery ties it together as the film reaches its conclusion is commendable.

The subtext of Gawain’s journey is about outlooks on life and the acceptance of death. The concept of self worth captured in that dynamic is really what strengthens the whole experience. The symbolism on display gives the movie a lot of artistic strength.

greenknightblog
Courtesy A24.

While the exploration of the human condition is accessible, though, the film as a whole isn’t as much. While the classic hero’s quest is at play, the slow pacing becomes more noticeable in between scenes where Gawain interacts with others on his journey, which wears a viewer down a bit.

Additionally, viewers who’re not as versed in Arthurian legends and literature may find themselves having questions about what’s going on, especially in the first act. As a result, audiences who are coming in with a fresh set of eyes may be playing catch-up at first.

Fortunately, the cast featured is up to the task of making the scenes really work. Patel is a great lead in “Green Knight,” with a fantastic performance portraying Gawain’s ambitions of being a true warrior and the flaws that prevent him from doing so.

Stealing the show from Patel in a few scenes, though, is Alicia Vikander, who actually portrays two characters over the course of the picture. Vikander does justice to both characters she plays, especially in the third act.

Perhaps the best thing about “Green Knight,” though, is just how gorgeous it is to look at. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo did award caliber work in crafting this movie’s visual identity. The camerawork is stylized and what’s captured through the lens is hypnotic and beautiful.

A lot of credit also has to go to the costume and set designers, as well as the crew who handled the music. The costumes and sets look authentic and capture the grime, as well as the mix of stone and nature of medieval periods. The music, meanwhile, was phenomenal and set the mood beautifully.

“The Green Knight” may not have the entertainment value of a summer release, and doesn’t feature as much surface-level emotion that will strike an audience. Additionally, not knowing some of the background details around the legends makes it a bit harder to get immersed in right away.

When looking at the direction, acting, cinematography and other categories, though, the picture wracks up positives across the board. As a piece of art, “The Green Knight” absolutely succeeds. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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