“The Northman” Review: Eggers’ New Period Film Brings Viking Revenge to Screen

When it was first announced that director Robert Eggers’ (“The Witch”, “The Lighthouse”) next project was a large-budget Viking movie, the internet went crazy. As more and more details came out, including Björk being announced as part of the cast, the hype grew and grew.   

As the hype kept rising, I started to get nervous. What if it’s uninspired? What if Björk is only in it for 3 minutes? What if it ends up being a letdown? 

Thankfully, only one of worries proved true, but the film is so good that I can’t even be mad that Björk is only in it for approximately 3 minutes. 

“The Northman” is an enormous, brutal revenge flick, the kind of blockbuster that we don’t really see much of anymore today. From the opening moments of the movie, it’s clear that this is a movie with a vision – and a pretty gnarly one at that. 

Inspired by Scandanavian and North myth, he film centers around Prince Amleth, played by a muscular Alexander Skarsgård, as he seeks revenge on his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang) for killing his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke), and marrying his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). An aside: move the “h” in Amleth to the beginning of his name and you’ll find that the legendary figure was a direct inspiration for an iconic William Shakespeare play. 

The film has a plot as straightforward as one can be, so Eggers makes sure to pack his film with brutal violence and beautiful imagery throughout Amleth’s journey. The visuals range from hardcore tracking shots of villages being destroyed to tasteful effect-driven imagery of someone floating up into Valhalla. The dialogue and imagery combine with the performances to form the visual equivalent of  epic Viking metal. 

The performances are no joke here either. Skarsgård, also a producer on the film, really gives it his all, delivering a performance equal parts howling wolf and broken man trying to find his way back home again. Claes Bang matches Skarsgård in these categories, although is much more outwardly evil.  

Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) turns in a great performance as Olga, a sorceress who becomes increasingly intertwined with Amleth’s revenge plot in ways that I won’t detail so as to avoid spoilers.  

Yes, both Willem Dafoe and Björk are only onscreen for long enough to have their roles basically count as cameos, but they both make great impressions in their screen time. Dafore especially seems on his A-game, growling out some of the wildest dialogue and giving us one of the weirdest moments of the film in its opening minutes. 

Nicole Kidman is the standout here, however. Kidman’s Queen Gudrún may seem only a bit part in the beginning, but as the film unfolds and we reach the final act, her performance becomes deeper, with a standout scene opposite Skarsgård that recontextualizes her role in the whole film. 

None of this would be possible without the steady hand of Robert Eggers’ direction. Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with Icelandic poet Sjón, a frequent Björk collaborator. While the screenplay can feel a bit less dense than Eggers’ previous films, he’s at the top of his craft when it comes to the direction on display here. Every shot seems to have a purpose, and you can tell that he cared about framing as much as he did performances.   

While the film could have easily been about 20 minutes longer — some parts do feel rushed — “The Northman” cements Eggers as one of the top creative minds working in film today. The attention to detail in all of his works, especially considering that all three are period films, is frankly astounding. I know Eggers himself has cast doubts on the production, but I truly hope his “Nosferatu” remake comes to fruition. For now though, I’ll gladly take this – naked volcano fight and all.