The Northman [Review]

Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

Giving a director who has made fantastic movies with very little can end up one of two ways. The first option is a mess that has been touched by the studio and finds itself utterly void of the voice that had made previous films of said director so unique. The second is more positive, and you get the best of both worlds. The voice that made this director so unique and a larger budget brought in a bigger cast and a lot more possibilities in terms of storytelling.

Robert Eggers’ newest film, a 90 million dollars Viking extravaganza, The Northman, falls into the second category. It is in vain with what Eggers has put out before, but he can do more with a larger budget and create a grandiose story that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Telling the story of Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), who is on the verge of becoming a man, witnesses his father brutally murdered by his uncle and sees his mother being kidnap by his father’s killer. Two decades later, Amleth – now a Viking who raids Slavic villages – meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow – to save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father. And so Amleth embarks on a quest to stop running from his destiny, meet his fate, and bring justice for his father.

Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC

If that story sounds familiar, it is because the legend of Prince Amleth is what inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But The Northman is not Hamlet, far from it. It is as far removed as possible from Shakespeare’s great play. It is dark and gory and very much inspired by the tale of Prince Amleth.

The biggest thing about Eggers previous work, The Witch and The Lighthouse, was that, for the most part, his films were not very mainstream, with most of the general audience unable to follow along with his movies. And this statement isn’t to make Eggers into something he is not, his films are brilliant and deserve a lot of attention, but to a wide audience, they might not be as appealing compared to those who consume movies at an enormous rate.

The Northman very much is the opposite. While it is as much a Robbert Eggers film, it is also his most mainstream film. Eggers has said that the editing process had been challenging for him. It was the first time he had studio interference for what the end product would look like. And that is another discussion entirely, the studio hiring a unique voice and then meddling to try to fit their needs. But even with all of that, The Northman is Robert Eggers showing off.

Sure, it is not his best work. I still prefer The Witch to his other films, but if The Northman is someone’s introduction to his style, it is a pretty good one. From start to finish, The Northman is visually stunning. This is where you see what he can do with a bigger budget and what money can bring to the table. And Eggers flexes as much as he can and showcases how he doesn’t always need to be linear to tell his story. It does help that he is telling a Viking story where Gods and fate are highly discussed, so visuals can be used to showcase that. 

Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC

While the cast delivers on every front, especially Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe, this is Alexander Skarsgård’s film. He has proven that he can hold his own, but this role is like nothing we have seen him do before. Very little needs to be said when he is on screen, most of Skarsgård’s acting is done through his eyes, but when he speaks, it just brings everything together. It’s an actor at the top of his game, and pair that with the physical demand of this role, and you find yourself with a performance that is incredible from start to finish.

Many could be scared to go and see The Northman, but for many moviegoers, Robert Eggers seems like this filmmaker that is for this niche audience and that they simply won’t be able to get it. But, The Northman is just the opposite. It is very clearly a Robert Eggers movie, keeping the voice that has made him unique over the years and showcasing a director who is in total control of his craft. It’s a feast to the eyes and can sometimes be challenging to follow, but it is also Eggers’ most accessible film. A film that is a studio movie without feeling like one, something unique and that will stay in your mind for a very long time.

If you are still undecided after all of that, you should just go to see it because of Willem Dafoe. And yes, that is all the reason you need to see it.