Almost every movie starts with a pitch. A writer or their agent pitches an idea to a studio executive or financer about an idea for a picture and if it resonates then it will go into production 1992’s opening of “The Player” gave a glimpse of this as Tim Robbins’ character heard ideas such as, “It’s ‘Out of Africa’ meets ‘Pretty Woman.'” Writer director Robert Eggers star has been on the rise lately. His first two films, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” are both great small horror films. He has now been granted a massive budget, which he deserves for his latest offering, “The Northman”. His pitch probably went somewhere along the lines of, “It’s ‘Conan the Barbarian’ meets ‘William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.'” It sounds like a solid idea, but it turns out to be a terrible mess.
A young Viking prince’s father is murdered by his uncle, who then marries his mother. When the prince is old enough he comes back to seek his revenge. It’s easy to see where the “Hamlet” angle comes into play. The “Conan” aspect comes from the violence that soon follows. While this premise sounds exciting, the opening is quite boring. We really don’t see a strong bonding between father and son. To make matters worse, Oscar Novak who plays the title character as child before Alexander Skarsgård takes over as the adult, is a weak actor. Since we don’t connect with him early we don’t really care about the vengeance he seeks.
Something that help make Eggers first two films so special is that you could also classify them as “art films”. It really worked for both pictures. Here he tries to be artsy again, but for this kind of tale it just doesn’t fit. Also the blood and gore is very uneven. Sometimes we have shots where you see guts coming out of someone, other times where you expect to see a high amount of bloodshed, there is very little. It may have been there to start. Perhaps this got an NC-17 rating and some images had to be cut in order to receive an R. If that is the case it is easy to spot where they had to tamper it down.
While the young star may not have been very strong the rest of the cast are solid. Skarsgård seems on the edge of becoming a full blown leading man and movie star. Anya Taylor-Joy returns to working for this director having previously starring in “The Witch”, her first leading role. She continues to grow by leaps and bounds in her craft. Willem Dafoe, who starred in “The Lighthouse” has a brief, but impactful role and Nicole Kidman shows she has not lost her touch.
There is little doubt Robert Eggers has a long and probably successful career in front of him. “The Northman” will be a successful film, but you can’t help to notice the flaws. Whatever he does next, you can count me in.