The Northman, the Viking saga of Robert Eggers with Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman and Björk. Little life in this odyssey of blood and death
Quirky directors and majors aren’t a happy match, generally. Impossible not to think about Dunes by David Lynch. A flop at the box office, crushed by critics, disowned by the director himself. The history of cinema is full of similar incidents, more or less conspicuous. Robert Eggers it seems, in this sense, to have saved himself in a corner.
After the interest aroused by the first two films, The VVitch (dazzling debut that launched Anya Taylor-Joy’s career) e The Lighthouse (with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) – both produced by Rodrigo Teixeira (Call me by your name, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão, Frances Ha) – there was a lot of waiting for Robert Eggers’ first blockbuster, The Northman. Welcomed by critics and the cinephile public as a visionary, brilliant author, highly skilled storyteller and cunning magician, Eggers was tempted by the budget put in place by Arnon Milchan’s Regency Enterprises (Disney share), which over the years has churned out things like The Revenant, Birdman, 12 years a slave And Natural Born Killers: 70 million dollars (million plus million less) to make an Oscar-winning film (undeclared ambition, but we can be suspicious without being too malicious) starring Alexander Skarsgård, who had been dreaming of a great Viking film for years. The meeting between the Swedish actor and the director was the turning point for the birth of The Northmanin a short time the names of Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Claes Bang and Björk, which returned to the cinema 22 years after Dancer in the Dark.
A director with crazy ideas and a cast of actors ready to get involved, we could have expected anything; the vision of Eggers and that of the producers, however, turned out to be a bit different from each other. In this Viking saga there seems to be little left of that cinematic vitality it made The Lighthouse a sudden cult, all crooked, bizarre, mysterious and vibrant, little of the mystery of The VVitch, allusive, corrosive and (literally) diabolical. The revenge story of a dethroned prince is revealed (too) classic and without (big) surprises, sumptuous in the staging (Nicole Kidman’s wig is wonderfulugly and tacky instead the special effects), but of little substance, lacking in life (you need the one to talk about death).
The film seems to gain altitude in the central part where the protagonist returns incognito to consume his bloody revenge, in a barely hinted attempt at a story with mystery tones, but then the narration continues flat with a final plot twist which is the minimum disputable. you might ask. Collections not stratospheric but decent (the public liked it enough, it could have been much worse), no big controversy against the production house and distributors, in short, despite the ugly film Eggers does not come out with broken bones, also declaring that he was immediately aware of the fact that the final cut would not have belonged to him, diluting the speculations on the friction between the director (with a more artistic vision) and producers (with a simpler vision). Probably, also for this reason, the film does not reveal any real ambition, no courage, resulting as a trivial compromise, a mild Viking re-enactment of nightmares, curses and pains lost in the frozen sea of the North. In the Viking theme better Valhalla Rising by Nicolas Winding Refn, on the subject of legends and visionary cinema better Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by David Lowery. Now we just have to wait for the already announced Nosferatu by Eggers, in the hope that the cachet of The Northman may have served for a greater good.