MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Epic Medieval Fantasy/Stars: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman/ Runtime: 125 minutes
I think it is safe to say that an incredibly skilled film helmer who manages to prove they can be skilled in a wide variety of genres are a truly skilled if uncommon group. It is for that reason why incidentally it has been so much fun seeing the ever expanding filmography of scribe/helmer David Lowery. Indeed ever since he came on to the scene in 2013 with a romance-fueled crime film called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, this distinct auteur has gone out of his way to make each new film he makes an entirely different kind of narrative and from the family adventure live action remake of Pete’s Dragon, an ethereal gorgeous film known as A Ghost Story, or even the equally whimsical and charming Robert Redford-led The Old Man And The Gun the results are always quite phenomenal. Suffice it to say that when taking Lowery’s past films into account, it should not come as a shock at all to learn that his eagerly awaited, at least in my opinion, cinematic stab at a story from the Arthurian legend is downright majestic, but that still doesn’t manage to give this man even half the credit he deserves for what he has managed to accomplish here. I say that because The Green Knight “2021” is not only riveting, beautiful, and ominous in equal measure, but it is a truly novel stab at an iconic story that will leave you utterly floored and your mind completely in awe even as you get up to leave the theater as the credits have begun to roll.
The plot is as follows: An adaptation of the iconic 14th century narrative poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” our slice of cinematic pie gets underway as we meet our hero, a young man by the name of Sir Gawain, who is intriguingly a tad bit underwhelming in the cultured department than you might think from a man who just so happens to be one of the legendary Knights of the Roundtable. Yet despite his lack of civility, our hero due by and large to being the nephew of a certain revered king named Arthur still holds fast to the belief that he needs to prove himself and is thus biting at the bit to be given the chance to have an iconic quest that will help prove he has what it takes to legitimately be called part of Arthur’s knights. A wish that is soon granted in a most unexpected way when one particular Christmas dinner part, our hero finds himself stuck without a story to engage his uncle only to have the party crashed by the sudden arrival of a plant/human being unlike anyone there has laid eyes on and which calls itself The Green Knight (apparently Green Giant was already taken even back in those days). We soon learn that The Green Knight has come to Camelot to engage this audience in a little “Christmas festivities” of his own accord. Namely, a game which involves a prize of his incredible and majestic axe to the person who can actually strike him with the caveat being whomever chooses to do this must then one year later find him at a place called The Green Chapel and have the blow struck rendered back onto them. Thus when no one else among the Knights of the Round Table dares to accept this entity’s challenge, we see that our hero impulsively puts himself out there to give this challenge a try seeing as succeeding would aid him in being seen as a hero with dear ol’ Uncle Art even being generous enough to let his nephew use the legendary sword Excalibur in the contest. However when the contest gets underway we see the Green Knight put down his axe and extend his neck to our hero who then proceeds to take advantage and lop off his opponent’s head Thanos in Avengers: Endgame-style.
Now normally this would be the end of the story, but in this case it’s just the beginning. A fact made evident when the Green Knight’s body stirs, picks up his chopped off noggin’, laughs uproariously, and promptly and swiftly reaffirms the one year promise before leaving on his horse with his head still in his hand. From there we see that whilst the next 12 months turn into a collection of parties honoring Gawain for his thwarting of the Knight it is only as that next Christmas starts to loom overhead that we see our hero begin to struggle with what it is he has to do. Thus we see our hero equip himself with the axe he was awarded plus a magic sash made by his dear ol’ mum that provides him protection from harm and, bidding his lady love farewell, embarks on his promised journey to The Green Chapel only to encounter a series of skirmishes along the way that will test his character and determine if he is not only worthy of being called a knight, but a man period.
Now right off the bat this movie gets underway with a riveting shot of a crown making its slow way down to land on the head of our hero which, upon landing on its intended target, results in fire swallowing up both his head the crown and it really does make for a spot-on intro from a visual perspective as this manages to set the tone perfectly for a cinematic outing that is just beautiful from beginning to end. Indeed in regards to how authentic to when it is supposed to be taking place, this slice of cinematic pie feels like it all but takes you back in time through both amazing sets and mood. I also would like to take a moment to challenge all of my fellow passionate lovers of cinema to a challenge of their own. Namely I challenge you not to be immensely astonished by the film helmer’s incredible and yet also gutsy ways that he utilizes the camera. Indeed when you merge that in with flawless work in the editing department as well as wonderfully episodic narrative structure, this slice of cinematic pie doesn’t seem like a movie, but rather like you are actually in the story itself. On top of all that, this is that uncommon modern slice of cinematic pie that does a wonderful job at utilizing effects of both a practical and a visual nature. Heck just how incredibly designed the ominous titular antagonist is to say nothing of the work done by the makeup team in bringing it (?) into the land of the living is an accomplishment in and out of itself let alone not something audiences might usually see in an indie film like this. By the same token, the CGI in this is also incredible to such an extent that when Gawain sees a pack of giants going for a walk, you are not able to distinguish if what you’re seeing is genuine or if its movie magic and I think that says quite a bit.
Now it should be said that what the riveting work from the cinematography department and the incredibly rich work from the effects department are aiding in conjuring up for us to immerse ourselves in and enjoy is an arresting and potent character analysis that operates in the iconic archetype known simply as the hero’s journey. It is with that in mind that Dev Patel’s take on the legendary Sir Gawain is one that is a beautiful mix of riveting and yet also complicated since although Patel is both charming and charismatic in equal measure, he also just as equally dares you to find him absolutely reprehensible whenever he shows off one of his many faults. Indeed in taking on the titular entity’s challenge head on, we see that Gawain strongly feels that he has found an easy road to becoming genuinely great in the eyes of his uncle and his peers. Instead though, he soon discovers that this is by no means as easy as he thought it was and this road is instead one that not only will call to task his integrity and courage, but also which delights in all the potholes contained along it. Suffice it to say then that as his journey goes on and Gawain begins changing as a person, his metamorphosis will keep you riveted whilst also wondering just what exactly will occur when our hero and his foe do get around to their rematch.
Yet even though The Green Knight is, and rightfully so, a riveting showcase for how incredibly talented Dev Patel can be as an actor, he is also aided immensely courtesy of a top-flight supporting group of players who all at one time or another show up through the various episodes that make up key moments of our hero’s journey. Yet although Barry Keoghan proves to be a standout among this group of incredibly talented performers with his role of a warzone wandering man of mystery who doesn’t have the best of intentions in the world, we also get delivered to us such wonderful turns as Sean Harris who gives us one of the best, if a bit more low-key, cinematic portrayals of King Arthur we’ve ever been given (even though I still do have a certain fondness for the work done by Nigel Terry in the role in 1981’s medieval epic Excalibur), Erin Kellyman as a spirit who Gawain is able to aid in finding closure in this life, and Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander (playing 2 distinct parts in this) as a likable yet also quite enigmatic in their own way lord and lady who provide our hero with a place to stay as he embarks on the final leg of his journey to the Green Chapel. Suffice it to say that in order for this story to be told in a way that both honors the source material and makes it accessible for a movie-going audience you need actors who can give performances that are just as authentic as anything done behind the camera. Suffice it to say therefore that these actors are able to do just and so much more.
All in all I think it should be said that legendary ballad of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a narrative poem that has an iconic legacy to it with a literary translation being provided by no less an iconic scribe than author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien and legendary actor Sean Connery even putting his own spin on the part of the Green Knight in a cinematic outing from 1984 known as Sword of the Valiant and the results were….mixed at best. Thankfully, film helmer David Lowery has come along to put his own distinct spin on this iconic narrative and the results are no less than absolutely magical. Indeed equipped with immersive thematic concepts, an absolutely dynamite cast, and a phenomenal narrative structure that is able to do some intriguing things with the concept of time, The Green Knight “2021” is a slice of cinematic pie that is not only riveting to watch the very first time, but one that you will wish to see time and time again. Indeed it’s a majestic film from a truly gifted film helmer and it is also easily far and away one of the finest that the year 2021 has seen fit to give us thus far. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Green Knight “2021” a solid 4.5 out of 5.