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Critics praise 'The Northman' as most accurate (and bloody) Viking movie of all time

Like The Witch and The Lighthouse, The Northman is packed to the teeth with historical detail.

By Josh Weiss
Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth in THE NORTHMAN

Robert Eggers seems to have done it again. The visionary writer-director behind The Witch and The Lighthouse delivers another heavily-detailed historical powerhouse with his third effort behind the camera: The Northman. Painted with shades of Hamlet and Ben-Hur, the film stars Alexander Skarsgård (The Stand) as Amleth, a buff and badass Viking warrior on a bloody warpath of revenge.

As a child, he was forced to leave his home when his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), murdered his father, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), in cold blood and usurped the throne. Now all grown up, Amleth sets out to murder his uncle and free his mother (Nicole Kidman).

Reviews for The Northman unanimously proclaim that Eggers' commitment to historical accuracy (from costumes, to props, to the way specific words and names are pronounced) is not lost in all the violence. But the gore is only one part of a larger product that dives deep into Viking culture and perpetuates the filmmaker's reputation for seeing his visions through to the end, mainstream tastes be damned. The movie currently holds a fresh 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, placing it just one point below Eggers' previous two efforts.

“It was hard to settle on a distinct visual tone for this movie, because art from the Viking era was abstracted, and 19th century Viking paintings and illustrations were far from accurate depictions of the material world," the director said in a statement. "The images we turned to for the film’s design came from military history books and museum illustrations, and living-history images of people playing at being Vikings — not exactly dense with atmosphere."

Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, and Björk round out the ensemble cast.

Head below to see what critics are saying...

"Whether you buy into Eggers’ insane epic, get high on its blood-drenched sorcery or roll your eyes at its excesses, the film makes you appreciate how seldom we get to see a big, noisy, brawling spectacle these days that’s grounded not in comic-book superheroes and villains but in culturally specific history. In other words, a work of bold imagination, not another offshoot of a familiar IP. That alone deserves respect." -David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"In most respects, Eggers is a unique artist with strong, singular ideas of how to script, stage and pace his films, and while The Northman is nothing if not a signature addition to a most original oeuvre — no one but Eggers would or could have reimagined “Hamlet” thus — it lacks the element of surprise that made The Witch and The Lighthouse feel like instant classics." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"No one has ever been more born for a role than Skarsgård was for this one — Amleth becomes a berserker, slaughtering his way with unpretty skill through a Rus village, then meandering indifferently through the aftermath of raping and pillaging like a retail worker who’s finally off the clock." -Alison Willmore, Vulture

"Just as The Witch critiqued 17th-century Puritan repression with a gleeful embrace of nude bonfire-dancing devilry, so The Northman, with its ominous ravens, bearded he-witches and helmeted Valkyries, treats Viking mythology as its own living, breathing, dazzling reality ... There’s a productive tension at the heart of “The Northman,” a tug-of-war between the Hollywood revenge-epic tradition from which it superficially hails and the sharper, more subversive dismantling of simplistic payback fantasies it wants to be." -Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

"This is the kind of filmmaking that rips you out of your body so hard that you’re liable to forget what year it is. In a movie era that’s been defined by compromise, “The Northman” rides into theaters with the fury of a valkyrie — it’s the rare studio epic that would sooner die than submit to modern precepts of how it should be told." -David Ehrlich, IndieWire

"Eggers abandons stylish modern crutches, like handheld cameras during his battle scenes, and instead resorts to smooth, eerie long takes, images that roam through the action, not with a sense of hands-off distance, but rather with a patient eagerness to lap up the sights, soak in the bloodletting. Nighttime scenes set outdoors are spookily drained of color and forced to evoke the wondrous, ominous purity of moonlight." -K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone

The Northman, which lists several historical consultants in its credits, “might be the most accurate Viking movie ever made.” The evidence for this is in the production design (by Craig Lathrop) and the costumes (by Linda Muir), in the runic chapter titles and in the careful pronunciation of words like 'Odin' and 'Valhalla.'" -A.O. Scott, The New York Times

The Northman is now playing in theaters everywhere.