REVIEW: Meticulously made’ Northman’ devoid of heart

As a Vikings fan, I felt a major urge to clap my hands above my head whenever the word “skol” was thrown out in this film.

The story of “The Northman” is based in a Scandinavian legend, which ultimately inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The protagonist of this film is a prince, Amleth, (Alexander Skarsgard) who witnesses his father (Ethan Hawke) be killed by his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang).

Amleth is forced to flee as a child after Fjolnir’s bloody rise to power, but vows to return. He eventually does so, now as an experienced, hardened warrior. To get close to his uncle, Amleth goes undercover, appearing as a slave working on Fjolnir’s land.

“Northman” was directed by Robert Eggers, who helmed 2019’s “The Lighthouse,” a film that ended at No. 2 on my top 10 list that year. Unfortunately, Eggers’ latest picture is unlikely to earn a spot in my 2022 ranking.

The picture is without a doubt well-made. The film looks exceptional, not only having a distinct visual identity, but boasting impressive cinematography as well.

The effort put in by Eggers and the rest of the creative team to make the movie visually appealing and ensure it feels authentic is worthy of praise. This is a medieval film that feels lived in.

The rugged terrain, the costumes of old and the less civilized characteristics of the world at that time are convincingly brought to life, creating an atmospheric experience. The film also incorporates some magical elements, giving the film a bit of mysticism while mostly staying grounded.

Courtesy Focus Features.

Yet, despite having a look and feel that can catch a viewer’s attention, it’s perpetually difficult to truly become engrossed with what’s taking place on screen. There’s little to find compelling about what’s developing throughout the movie.

Simply put, it’s just a story of vengeance. A story told with technically sound filmmaking, but a story of revenge all the same.

In all fairness, the film does explore how acts of vengeance can accomplish little in the grand scheme of things, with a sort of ‘eye for an eye leaves the world blind’ theme. At many points in the picture, the protagonist’s combative actions have a one step forward, one step back effect.

But while it does add intrigue to the classic revenge concept, it fails to makeup for a story that feels bland and characters who seem entirely lacking in personality. As a result, “The Northman” turns into a tiresome watch.

Unlike other sword and shield films from years past such as “Gladiator” and 2021’s “Green Knight,” there’s a lack of passion from start to finish. Despite characters having fierce motivations, the human spirit on display that should grip a viewer feels stifled.

“The Northman” has fine craftsmanship yet it is ultimately an empty experience. While the film looks fantastic, features entertaining moments and themes of violence begetting violence, it remains hollow. 2.5 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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