The Norseman (2022)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/7/22
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, cameos by Willem Dafoe, Björk

A young prince witnesses his father's murder, his mother's abduction, and the destruction of his village. Barely escaping with his life, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) dedicates his life to revenge and becomes a ruthless barbarian warrior in search of his father's killer. Assuming the life of a slave, he meets a young witch named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and they fall in love while making plans to kill their overlords. But in a world of honor, family politics, and eternal bloodshed, there can be no happy ending for anyone.

While the story sounds like a play-by-play remake of John Milius's "Conan The Barbarian" (1981), the film looks and feels more like "The 13th Warrior" (1999). While "Conan" is more pulp and adventure oriented, "The Northman" strives for authenticity and historical accuracy, which causes the narrative to falter. Alexander Skarsgård gives a superb performance as the single-minded Amleth, who is a hulking beast of muscle and sinew. He's an imposing and intimidating figure who towers over nearly everyone in the film, although he keeps his savagery under wraps in the second half while he struggles to work out his plan. Anya Taylor-Joy is the one spot of brightness and beauty in the film, and she is delightful throughout. Björk makes an entertaining cameo as a mysterious seeress, which plays to the film's supernatural undertones and fever dream sensibilities.

It's a beautiful and superbly crafted film, but it's grim and brutal, and the pacing can be challenging. I also had a hard time following the story and parsing the dialog, but I'm guessing a large part of that was due to my hearing loss. The mud and blood aesthetic serves the film well, and the action scenes are vicious and intense. While visionary director Robert Eggers has created a fine-looking piece of work, I'm reluctant to call it satisfying or entertaining. It's a simple revenge tale full of death and despair, and in the end everything seems meaningless.