The Northman is written and directed by Robert Eggers, with Sjón serving as co-writer on the film. Additionally, it features a phenomenally powerful cast of Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe. With a runtime of just over two hours, Eggers packs tension, action, fantasy, and mythology all into one package that never slows down.
An action-filled epic with extraordinary single-shot action takes, The Northman follows a young Viking prince Amleth on his quest to avenge his father’s murder, save his mother, and kill the man who brought ruin to his life and fate. Embracing a more traditional narrative than we’ve seen before from the writer-director, revenge runs hot through the film. Whether it’s a primal feeling of intense violence or a stark cold river of hate flowing through him, Eggers explores the many facets of revenge. In one film with one family, Eggers explores how memories that fuel revenge may not be the unshaken truth we believe them to be and how revenge begets tragedy, regardless of its path.
While action is an excellent way to describe elements of The Northman, brutality is a better word. We all know the violent nature of Viking customs both for religious ritual and justice, and Eggers weaves that violence into the film beautifully. The artistic brutality of The Northman is one of its most considerable strengths. The violence sets the stakes and tension and never allows you to feel that Amleth is safe.
Truthfully, Eggers understands action sequences in a way most American directors do not. Violence and fighting aren’t devoid of narrative. In fact, they upend it, reinforce it, and add emotional weight. From the first fight to the last one we see, our “hero” is palpably pushed by rage and pain, which are never second-place to the swinging swords and feral attacks.
Beyond that, though, the visualization of drug-induced moments throughout the film is visceral and uncomfortable in the best ways. And their shocking elements never feel out of place in the narrative. Even the use of animal death throughout the film made me squirm, but it never felt out of place. Instead, Eggers does what he always does: transports his audience to another time, another culture, and in a way, another world detached from the one we know.
Finally, there isn’t a single actor who isn’t giving it their all. It’s hard to find better words to explain the performances in The Northman other than that every single actor is dialed into the same wavelength. The intensity and commitment given to every line, every scowl, and the small acts of tenderness by each actor makes for an entertaining film. Skarsgård is feral and driven, Kidman is cunning, Taylor-Joy threads the needle between whimsical and fierce, Hawke is unrelenting, Bang is charismatic and endearing, and Dafoe a certain kind of wise chaos. While none have more time than Skarsgård, all of them give unforgettable performances. A true ensemble with bite.
The bite and intensity are bolstered by a phenomenal set design, transformative landscapes, and costuming that shows a keen eye for detail. Everything in the film sings together, elevating each part further.
The Northman was made for me. It’s a feast of visuals and balanced storytelling. It considers Norse storytelling and history that shows Egger’s prowess as both a director and a writer. Additionally, the film itself has more wide appeal than his past two in that it offers up more action, less downtime, and a familiar use of revenge. That said, its accessibility to audiences who aren’t particularly open to more arthouse films doesn’t harm Egger’s auteur and experimental style. Instead, it’s a bridge between genre filmmaking that gets experimental and a story and aesthetic that wide audiences like.
In truth, The Northman is a film I can recommend to anyone with a love for Vikings, revenge stories, action, fantasy, and the actors on the screen too. It’s violent and beautiful, cutting away at traditional narrative and throwing the audience into Viking storytelling and culture. Not to mention, it’s amazing to finally see Skarsgård in a role that pushes past genre actor who is there brood and look gorgeous. If there is any film that solidifies Skarsgård’s talent and drive, it’s The Northman.
The Northman is playing in theaters on April 22, 2022, nationwide.
- Rating - 9/109/10
The Northman is a film I can recommend to anyone with a love for Vikings, revenge stories, action, fantasy, and the actors on the screen. It’s violent and beautiful, cutting away at traditional narrative and throwing the audience into Viking storytelling and culture.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.