Texas-based filmmaker David Lowery has always had Camelot on his mind. In a recent press release, he shared a photo of himself at 8-years-old donning a tunic and shiny helmet, crediting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for his obsession around Grail mythology and Arthurian lore. Now 40, Lowery has realized his childhood dream with The Green Knight, a beautiful and bold medieval fantasy that doesn’t play by any of the “rules” laid out by previous Round Table movies. While the film follows the narrative laid out by the 14th-century poem, the ethereal epic explores the text’s themes of courage and loyalty in an evocative and challenging manner that immerses all of one’s senses in the theatrical experience.
The focus of the tale is Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), who joins his uncle King Arthur (Sean Harris) in the royal court for a Christmas feast among a group of legendary knights. Gawain laments that he has no notable stories to share with his esteemed brethren when a mystical treelike creature calling himself the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) proffers a festive challenge to the group. He offers his axe to whomever can land a clean strike against him but warns that an equal blow will be returned in a year’s time, prompting Gawain to heedlessly behead the Green Knight. When the otherworldly being retrieves his head and rides away laughing, Gawain must decide whether to accept his fate by traveling to the Knight’s home of Green Chapel the year following or to cower in Camelot until Christmas comes again.
Leading up an exemplary ensemble cast, Patel has never been better as a temerarious but trustworthy young journeyman trying to find his place in the world between myth and mediocrity. A24 regulars like Barry Keoghan and Kate Dickie (the latter of whom also appeared with Ineson in the studio’s 2016 breakout The Witch) make the most of their screen time as a creepy scavenger and Queen Guinevere, respectively. The always welcome Joel Edgerton also turns up as a chuffed lord eager to help Gawain on his quest, with some caveats. Alicia Vikander is also terrific in a dual role whose characters bleed into one another in a seductive and mysterious way. In the third act, one of her characters gives a colorful monologue about the unstoppable forces of nature that made me temporarily scared of the color green.
Many modern medieval movies (2018’s Robin Hood springs to mind) tend to focus on the battle and swordplay associated with these tales, bringing in loads of computer-generated effects and legions of stunt people to give things an “epic” feel. Though he does use some CGI for the Green Knight creature and a friendly fox that aids and, on one occasion, scolds Gawain, Lowery often utilizes the immaculate production design and practical effects to convey his pensive and impressionistic tale. This isn’t an action movie; the violence in the film takes place quickly but the consequences reverberate throughout. There are more than a handful of Arthurian allusions in the picture and those not familiar with the material may be frustrated at the movie’s lack of explanation and exposition. One would do well to brush up on the source material before going into the theater.
In addition to writing and directing The Green Knight, Lowery serves as the editor and applies the unique rhythm and texture he established in 2017’s A Ghost Story. He’s often unpredictable in his movement, using startling jump cuts to pass over long stretches of time but holding and lingering on shots that we may expect other directors to cut away from sooner. With cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, he composes shots that are haunting and suggest depths of emotion that may not be felt otherwise from the story. Lowery revealed in an interview last week that in the long lead-up to the film’s release, he had doubts about continuing to make future films in the face of an increasingly uncertain world but decided to press on with projects he deemed worthwhile. If The Green Knight is evidence of what else he has in store, he has chosen wisely.
Score – 4/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters and on HBO Max is The Suicide Squad, a DCEU superhero sequel starring Margot Robbie and Idris Elba about super-powered penitentiary inmates who are sent to a South American island to destroy a Nazi-era laboratory.
Available to rent on demand is John and the Hole, a psychological thriller starring Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle about a disturbed young boy who holds his family captive in a hole in the ground.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Val, a documentary that depicts the life and career of actor Val Kilmer.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup