Movie Review: The Green Knight

Plot: Based on the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, director David Lowery’s newest adaptation centers around King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) wayward nephew Gawain (Dev Patel). Seemingly content to while away his days drinking and carousing in brothels, Gawain nonetheless yearns to be a knight in King Arthur’s court. On Christmas Day the mysterious Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) appears before Arthur with a challenge. Anyone who can strike a single blow upon him will win his magical green axe. However, that person must appear one year hence at the Knight’s chapel and receive a similar blow in kind. Eager to please his uncle and king, Gawain takes up the challenge, lopping off the Green Knight’s head, only to have the Knight pick it and ride off laughing raucously. As a year quickly passes and his legend grows, Gawain decides reluctantly to take up the quest and meet the Green Knight at his chapel. Yet Gawain’s road is fraught with danger. With each new challenge, Gawain begins to learn what it truly means to be a knight.

Review: Terry Bradshaw is renowned as one of the greatest big game quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He was the first quarterback to lead his team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to four Superbowl titles. Nevertheless, Bradshaw repeatedly contended with constant attacks on his intelligence. In fact, one noted sportswriter famously stated that Bradshaw couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “a.” Decades later comedian Dennis Miller summed up Bradshaw’s success by saying, “Sometimes the best place to be is in the crucible. All the bullshit falls away.”

I recognize that I may be slow walking my readers to some great epiphany, so I’ll dispense with the colorful anecdotes and just say this: watching director David Lowery’s The Green Knight is like being inside a crucible. Or more precisely, it’s like being dropped inside a legend or a fever dream. Rarely have I been swept away so completely by a film. Visually captivating with magnificent camerawork from cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Lowery delivers his best film to date. An elegiac rumination on the nature of love, honor, duty, nobility, and life, The Green Knight is a provocative examination of the human condition, rather than a straight sword and sorcery epic.

Although this is thoroughly Gawain’s tale, Lowery makes a painstaking effort to create a gritty medieval world that’s unlike any version of Camelot you’ve ever seen. Rather than the bright glitz and glamour of Excalibur, the world of The Green Knight is almost shocking in its austerity. Everything has a worn down and weathered look from the windswept dirty streets to the near constant overcast skies, to the dank interior where the Round Table dwells. Even Arthur and Guinevere (Kate Dickie) come off withered and decrepit, almost as if the toll of leadership and the cost of noble wars is visibly destroying them.

When Gawain ventures out into the countryside, there’s seemingly no respite as he’s waylaid by everything from giants to bandits. Every encounter seems to be a test of his honor and his dignity whether it’s recovering the skull of St. Winifred, dealing with a magical fox, or (unsuccessfully) resisting the sexual advances of Lady Hautdesert (Alicia Vikander who showcases not one but two brilliant performances in Lowery’s movie). Every incident serves as an allegory for life, how we are constantly having to weather storms. Even though we may have the most noble and honorable of intentions, we often fail. Yet it is Gawain’s persistence and his ability to eventually gain courage and strength, that keeps the audience invested.

It doesn’t hurt that actor Dev Patel delivers a stunning and nuanced performance as Gawain. It’s not often that I’m in awe of a performance, but Patel captivates from the word go. He presents the audience with a flawed human being that often gives in to his vices. Yet Patel manages to endear himself because of his noble heart. We root for him to evolve and grow, to choose the noble and honorable path. Patel presents Gawain in a manner that ranges the gamut from adventurous excitement, to bleak wretchedness, to noble acceptance. Few actors could have fully realized the Gawain of David Lowery’s script, but Patel makes it look effortless. I’m stunned that he’s not more of a household name and if there’s any justice, The Green Knight will catapult him to more prominent roles. I would be shocked if Patel doesn’t receive his second Academy Award nomination for this performance. It’s that damn good.

The Green Knight embodies the soul of the visual medium, and how that medium can be elevated to art. It’s complimented by a haunting and beautiful score from Daniel Hart. You can’t help but get swept up in its ambiance. No detail is too small whether it is the color of a magical fox’s tail or the visual feast that is the Green Knight, courtesy of costume designer Malgosia Turzanska. Indeed, the final fifteen minutes of The Green Knight contains virtually no dialogue but delivers an emotional gut punch that will have you reeling and cheering.

The Green Knight is not going to be everyone’s cup of mead. Anyone expecting the sword and sorcery of John Boorman’s Excalibur or even the gallant adventures of Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, will be found wanting. This is a tale that lingers in the brain, that demands you sit in its mystery and magic. For those daring enough to go on this quest, you will discover a thoroughly satisfying tale you won’t soon forget.

My rating System:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

The Green Knight: 10/10