What happens when you give an indie darling a big budget? The Northman.

The indie-turned-big-budget director pipeline returns thanks to Robert Eggers

The Northman.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Focus Features, iStock)

In The Northman, a new historical epic from filmmaker Robert Eggers, Viking carnage flows with an elegant, sometimes mischievous sense of showmanship. Not long after Amleth, the young son of a king (Ethan Hawke), has received his first instructions in the ways of Viking leadership, the king and his men are attacked by Amleth's uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). The insurgence captures Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and pursues the boy. He fights off his attackers, then runs, ducks, and hides throughout his village, as Eggers follows him with lateral camera movements, capturing the violence in a number of unbroken shots. This isn't the last blood that will flow, of course; Amleth will grow into a fearsome warrior (played as an adult by Alexander Skarsgård) hell-bent on revenge.

Somehow, during all of this mayhem, I thought of Wes Anderson. It's not that Anderson invented the fine art of the side-tracking shot or another composition he and Eggers both favor, where characters stare into the camera from the center of the frame, often symmetrically flanked by others. Eggers has a whole set of influences, cinematic and otherwise, that are quite apart from Anderson's own, equally idiosyncratic array of sources. But The Northman — a massive jump up in scale and budget following Eggers' A24-distributed indies The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) — shares with Anderson's films a sense of a specific corner of a movie world being filled out, with meticulousness and confidence.

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Jesse Hassenger

Jesse Hassenger's film and culture criticism has appeared in The Onion's A.V. Club, Brooklyn Magazine, and Men's Journal online, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, where he also writes fiction, edits textbooks, and helps run SportsAlcohol.com, a pop culture blog and podcast.