May 17, 2022

Robert Eggers stakes a career on ‘The Northman’


For writer-director Robert Eggers, this week’s “The Northman” ranks as a high-stakes gamble for his future on the A-list.

Eggers is the latest example of how Hollywood doesn’t just love, it depends on, new talent.  Discoveries are the life blood of a global industry that covets a diverse, youth-oriented audience.

Eggers gained traction as an unknown filmmaker with a pair of low-budget independent films that were championed by critics and have allowed him to leap from “The Lighthouse,” a $4 million production to the mighty $90 million necessary to see “The Northman” come to life exactly as he imagined.

New Hampshire-born Eggers, 38, first won notice with 2015’s horror entry “The Witch,” starring a then-unknown Anya Taylor Joy. “The Witch” won fans for Eggers’ ability to suggest “realness.”

With “The Lighthouse” (2019), a claustrophobic black-and-white two character drama, Eggers’ unadorned cinematic style clearly announced a art house mindset — but one that made money.

With “The Northman,” he’s entered a risky action arena. His Viking epic sees Alexander Skarsgard’s crown prince determined to avenge his father the King (Ethan Hawke). The young heir sees his dad murdered by his uncle Fjolnir (Denmark’s Claes Bang) who took the crown, married his mother (Nicole Kidman) and has own young son and heir.

Alexander Skarsgard stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release.(Photo by Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC

Yes, “Hamlet” looms large. As does the gore. And a suggestion that ancient winds of “Game of Thrones” are felt. While Eggers could not make this barbaric, elemental chronicle wholly in black-and-white, he uses it effectively and frequently for startling contrasts to color-soaked vistas and landscapes.

“The Northman” filmed entirely in Ireland but is set principally in Iceland, which makes it reasonable to see Iceland’s most famous artist Bjork as a sorceress in this, her first film in 17 years.

Skarsgard, like the rest of the mostly male cast, has been to the gym and transformed his slender physique with bulging, humongous back and shoulder muscles that suggests he’s ready to play the Hulk.

Taylor-Joy reunited with Eggers as Olga, a witch of the Birch Forest, and Willem Dafoe, a “Lighthouse” star, is here as well

How cheeky is casting Kidman as Skarsgard’s mother? They were famously a couple, doomed by escalating sexual violence, in the Emmy-winning “Big Little Lies.” Here shocking surprises herald their complicated relationship, which is unlike any mother-son relationship in memory.

“The Northman” was notoriously troubled by early test screenings, with viewers incapable of following the plot. That’s been fixed, according to a recent New Yorker profile on Eggers.

Now it’s up to critics and, especially audiences, to see where Eggers goes next.

“The Northman” opens Friday.