Friday Film Review--"The Green Knight"
Be forewarned. The Green Knight is a beautiful film that – for some – will be tough to sit through. Mark Harrington has this week’s Friday Film Review.
This week’s film is The Green Knight, a new release by A24 and currently showing only in theaters. The film is directed by David Lowery and stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris.
Now, reviewing films, like any art form, is fraught with a dizzying array of challenges. However, I must confess that reviewing a complex film like The Green Knight is an easy task. The reason is that merely providing an accurate preview of the film presents an opportunity to save potential audiences from a massive, missed expectation.
The first thing you need to know is The Green Knight is an interpretation of one of the most mysterious poems tied to the King Arthur legend. As such, this film is an introspective focused account on morality and humanity; it is not a swashbuckling action film about the knights of the Round Table.
The second thing you need to know is A24 is best known for powerhouse art films like Hereditary and Moonlight. So, if you want swords and love stories set in grand castles, go rent something along the lines of King Arthur, First Knight, Excalibur, or Disney’s animated classic The Sword in the Stone. This film is more like a cross between a Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare production and the interpretive film Dreams by Akira Kurosawa.
The Green Knight was the most enigmatic of King Arthur’s knights- part riddler, part tester of souls. His origin story is limited primarily to a poem entitled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Despite several other productions which appropriate the name, The Green Knight is the first adaptation which follows the actual poem.
The narrative begins with an aging King Arthur, played wonderfully by Sean Harris, hosting a Christmas feast which is interrupted by a challenge from a mysteriously green warrior who bursts into the Round Table chamber atop a war horse, and waiving a massive battle axe. This Green Knight offers a Christmas “game” whereupon if a brave knight cares to strike him with the axe, he must meet him at one year’s time at a chapel and receive the blow in return. Gawain, the untested and debaucherously inclined nephew of the King, rises to take the challenge. He beheads the Green Knight, but the knight’s body grabs his head and rides off into the night, bellowing with an ominous laughter. What follows is the depiction of Gawain’s uncertainty in the following year and his journey to the chapel, during which he faces several tests to his chivalry, drawing out contradictions in the Camelot traditions of honor and loyalty in the face of ambition and fear. The scenes unfold with abrupt surrealism interjected at diversions along his journey.
So, on my ski trail rating system, The Green Knight earns my intermediate Blue Ski Trail rating. Compelling acting by a tremendous cast led by Dev Patel’s depiction of a conflicted Gawain, bold cinematography, and haunting sound image counterpoint create an immersive interpretation of the mysterious poem in the King Arthur storyline. But at over two hours and with an editing imbalance between the theatrical and the surreal, few audience members will enjoy the full extent of the immersion. The Green Knight is rated R for violence, graphic nudity, and messy sexuality. This is Mark Harrington for KPCW’s Friday Film Review.