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Flix at :48: 'The Northman' features skillful camera work, but too much violence

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A poster for 'The Northman.' At the bottom, a man's silhouette shows  him standing on a rock. Above are the torsos of seven people.
Focus Features

Emmy award-winning actor Alexander Skarsgard (Godzilla vs. Kong, 2021) has never looked angrier or more muscular as he does in his leading role in The Northman. In the ancient North Atlantic, a reigning king is killed by his brother causing the king's young son to flee the kingdom. But the son grows up, joins a Viking gang, and returns to his homeland to murder his uncle, save his mother, and avenge his father. The whole film is one half arcane naturalism adventure and one half Greek tragedy.

For the first hour, I kept thinking, "Am I watching a Scandinavian version of The Lion King?" There's an odd mixture of plot points reminiscent of the Legend of King Arthur, Shakespeare's Hamlet and the 2015 film The Revenant. And because the first half of The Northman has so many clear references, it's predictable and puzzling. Because once you start noticing familiar references, you start looking for them or even expecting them. (The Northman is loosely adapted from a Norse myth called the Story of Amleth written in circa 1200.) But once the latter half of the film arrives, it gets interesting with surprises, mounting suspense and realistic character development.

After a massive 5-month-long shooting schedule, on location in Iceland and Northern Ireland, and with some of the most historical accuracy of Viking culture ever shown on film, it's visually intricate and rich with a stunning color palette of chilly greys, earthy browns and dirty greens. The slow smooth camera work with long, and surprisingly elaborate, tracking shots is immersive, impressive and impossible not to commend. But the violence is far too much.

I totally understand the importance of violence in a story like this, because a revenge-centered Viking life is inherently brutal. But the fighting and killing is so bloody and so embellished, it pushes the film into a gratuitous orgy of masculine fantasy and away from the darkly psychological epic it tries to be. Director and co-screenwriter Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse, 2019) must have thought, "Is only one decapitation in this film too little? Would adding three more be fun? Will slowly stabbing a man through the face be cool and keep viewers' attention? Am I the only one who wants the climax of the film to be a sword fight between two, sweaty, nude men on the slopes of a fiery volcano?" My imaginary questions could go on and on.

The beastly ferocious masculinity is interesting at first. (How much of a man is rooted in the animalistic instincts of carnal survival and dominance?) But magnifying so much of it makes The Northman feel overwrought and overdone.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.