The Green Knight
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Kate Dickie, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman
Screened at: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown Los Angeles, 7/27/21
Opens: July 30th, 2021
People face challenges throughout their lives, and how they respond to them can both inform the way others perceive them and shape the course of what follows. Rising immediately when called upon, or even volunteering, for a complicated or dangerous assignment can be a sign of strength and bravery, but it can also indicate impulsivity and a failure to properly think through the consequences of those actions. Prophecies don’t tend to guide everyday modern life, but in medieval fantasies, what is written and spoken aloud can carry a great weight. Such is the case in The Green Knight, a slow-moving adaptation of the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris). When a mysterious being calling itself the Green Knight arrives into the king’s court on Christmas, he invites a knight to strike him, vowing in exchange to return that same blow one year later. Gawain eagerly steps up, and when the knight puts down his sword, Gawain effortlessly decapitates him. When the headless knight reaches down and grabs his own severed head, Gawain knows that he must set out one year later to reach a green chapel where he will face his fate and fulfill the challenge set out for him that will likely result in his death.
The premise of this film is actually remarkably simple. That it is steeped in lore and based on a 2,500-word poem that has existed for centuries evidently adds to the magnitude of the story, but the cinematic product seems entirely uncertain of its focus. Even in just the first few scenes, there are numerous visual styles employed, and that only continues as Gawain spends a considerable amount of time – which feels like years even though the film itself runs only two hours and nine minutes – wandering through unknown territory in search of his own demise.
Accepting the fantastical nature of this film, which involves Arthur’s sister (Sarita Choudhury) as a witch and also meets a young woman (Erin Kellyman) searching for her own head, is key to its enjoyment. For some viewers, that may be possible, but there is no truly compelling invitation to enjoy its bizarre hybrid of historical drama and supernatural flourishes. Text is scrawled onscreen to indicate chapter separations, but there is no consistency among them and often they seem merely to remind audiences that there is indeed still action happening on screen even though little has happened for a good deal of time.
The cast is competent and each actor infuses energy into their roles, lackluster as they may be. Patel brings a youthful overconfidence and lust for life that makes him a fitting protagonist. Harris immerses himself in the character of a passionate and charismatic leader whose speeches seem almost possessed. Kellyman is haunting in a brief scene, and Barry Keoghan, Joel Edgerton, and Alicia Vikander each make considerable impressions as influential figures who contribute to Gawain’s quest.
None of their efforts, however, can compensate for an epic that fails to adequately engage. The mood of the film never feels authentic, and there are moments at which it seems like time has stopped passing entirely, with no sense of urgency whatsoever for Gawain as he meanders towards a disturbing and likely fatal end. What cleverness does exist within the film is undone by its inability to remain focused or interesting for more than a scene at a time. Those who enjoy long-winded walks through unknown lands with treacherous creatures may find an appeal here, but it has very little overall to offer.
Story – D
Acting – C+
Technical – C-
Overall – D+