Review: "The Green Knight" Always Triumphs

David Lowery's The Green Knight opens theatrically in North American theatres starting Thursday night, courtesy of A24. It is exactly what you expect it to be.

Review: "The Green Knight" Always Triumphs

 You've probably seen Lowery's previous naturalistic supernatural gems ( Ghost Story and Pete's Dragon), etc. This is not Excalibur or King Arthur Legend of the Sword. It runs for 125 minutes and, from what I understand, is a deliberately longer cut than the one that was to be shown at 2020 SXSW. The final product is more of a tone poem than a movie, allowing you to relax in a world that's worth seeing. Although the movie is not filled with action or conventional spectacle, it's still packed full of great acting and stunning visuals. It also has a truly epic feel for its A24 budget.

Our adventure is loosely inspired by the poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." It concerns the young nephew to King Arthur (Sean Harris), who is well-regarded with his royal kin, but longs to be knighted and the abstract notions that honor it. Arthur and his knights encounter a tree-like creature on Christmas Eve. Are they brave enough to attack this creature? There is a catch: they must reciprocate any blows they land next Christmas Eve. Young Gawain (Dev Patel), seizes the chance and lops off the creature’s head. Only for the knight grab his head and issue an ominous "from a year's hence" before he waltz out of the front door. Perhaps Gawain should just have lopped off his pinkie.

Gawain fulfills his obligation to go to the creature's place and meet his fate. This is the bulk of the film. The film's lush, atmospheric and oppressively foggy adventure is faithful enough to the source material to satisfy "fans", while still offering a few surprises for the faithful. Alicia Vikander portrays Gawain's love interests and the wife (Joel Edgerton) in two roles. She tries to subdue the knight in armor. Sarita Choudhury portrays Gawain's mother, Morgan Le Fay. This is a departure from the original text that serves this film well. It's a typical journey with many perils and conversations about the "honor", his seemingly doomed encounter. Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography emphasizes fog, sog, and lonely mountain roads, creating a sense of dread.

Casting a man who looks like Dev Patel, as opposed to Charlie Hunnam, is a great example of how an underrepresented group can enjoy a classic Hollywood hero lead without drawing too much attention. This is also used to support Gawain's desire for equal status among Arthur's knights. This adds to Gawain's belief that he must be twice so heroic to be able to claim his place among the knights at a time when all others were doomed for mediocre existences. This subtext is well-said by the film. It's still a case of "against-the-grain" casting that makes a movie more than just giving an extraordinarily (and fantastically good-looking!) "not a White guy" actor the opportunity to shine. All this is done to make a movie that is distinctly David Lowery-ish.

The Green Knightis exactly what you expect it to be and more. The pace is deliberately slow and deliberate, while the ending plays with Arthurian expectations. The performances are excellent, even though this is The Dev Patel Show. Lowery's Pete's Dragon is easily the most popular of all the Disney "reimaginings" and has provided another stunning visual reflection on the mythology of heroic heroism. Without being too "yellow highlighter", the picture pokes fun at both our expectations of Hollywood heroes and our ideas rooted in old-school traditions about masculinity and manhood. It is not for everyone. It's not an action-packed, high-budget thrill ride. The Green Knightis an A24-style epic that is worth watching on the largest big screen.

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