The Green Knight
(Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, et al / R / 2h 10m / A24)
Summary: Sir Gawain accepts The Green Knight’s invitation of a “Christmas Game,” striking a blow and then being struck in kind the following year. On his way to keep the appointment, he learns about honor, courage, and what being a Knight really means.
Verdict: From The Sword in the Stone to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the legends of King Arthur and his knights seem to have a timeless appeal. Writer-Director David Lowery brings Arthurian legend to life in a bold, new way with The Green Knight.
This epic adaptation of “a chivalric romance” follows Sir Gawain on a quest for knightly honor – and official appointment to the King’s round table – as he accepts a challenge issued by the title character on Christmas Day to strike a blow and be struck in kind exactly one year later. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) stars as Gawain, a young man whose potential to be something great is as boundless and vast as the film’s wide-shot cinematography under the direction of Andrew Palermo.
Because the story of Gawain’s journey is mostly a solitary one, the aspects of this film that shine the brightest are of the audio-visual variety. The Green Knight (an unrecognizable Ralph Ineson) enters the royal court awash in green light, his challenge being read aloud by the queen as though entranced while the words appear in script on the screen.
The film’s entire color palate is comprised of rich, earthy colors and textures to depict a rather austere world, leaving very little doubt about Lowery’s intention to create an authentic Medieval vibe. This certain level of authenticity isn’t without its faults, though; since there is a fair amount of time spent in the dark, a fair portion of the action is difficult to see.
Traditional English folk music also help to bring the world to life, while scripted text on the screen to break the story up into “chapters” and adorable CGI foxes help keep one foot in a cinematic 21st century.
And while depictions of Arthurian figures tend to often stray toward the fantastical, The Green Knight sticks pretty close to the plot of the epic, anonymous poem that serves as its source material, even down to elements that may seem “edgy” or “progressive,” including a few sensual scenes.
But even here, Lowery takes certain liberties; Gawain goes on a wild side quest when he meets St. Winifred, a woman with a lore all her own. And when Gawain accidentally ingests some hallucinogenic mushrooms, his visions of giants are enough to make the viewer wonder if he’s tripping, or if they are.
Beyond the luscious landscape, individual performances add tremendous dimension to the project. Patel takes pains to emphasize the sense of honor Gawain (mostly) upholds in the face of adversity and temptation, even going as far as to say of honor, “that’s why a knight does what he does.”
But perhaps even more perfectly, he also portrays Gawain as conflicted and hesitant. Alicia Vikander has a brief, yet memorable appearance as Essel, Gawain’s girl, who easily makes you believe that she deserves much better than she gets. And a chance encounter on the road with Barry Koeghan’s scavenging peasant boy begs for more screen time for the worst-best potential pageboy in all of Camelot.
Sean Harris’ King is another standout, perhaps the biggest one, having this well-known literary figure straddle the line between royal responsibility and familial affection, essentially daring his nephew to pursue greatness like the rest of the men in the court, but also making sure to give Gawain the pep talk he needs before the journey begins.
Vote Uncle Artie for Uncle of the Year! Ineson’s Green Knight, too, is a sight to behold underneath tons of barky makeup looking much like an older, wiser Groot from that one superhero movie.
One admittedly valid critique that exists of The Green Knight is that it’s a touch slow paced. The stretches of quiet were so often so long that I was (needlessly) convinced a jump scare was right around every corner. But the upshot of the pacing of The Green Knight is that it gives the viewer time to think, just as Gawain has had a whole year to think about his course of action and the meaning of virtues like honor and courage.
At every juncture, these are put to the test, all building to a confrontation between Gawain and the Green Knight that defines what the former is really made of.
The final fifteen minutes of The Green Knight, for as slow as the first one hundred-five had been, are a rollercoaster, demanding the audience’s full attention, and if you pay close enough attention, you’re bound to walk away from your first viewing satisfied.
And if you didn’t, don’t worry, this story is well worth another look.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte