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Green Knight, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"What Becomes A Legend Most?"
5 stars

There have been any number of movies over the years inspired by the legends of King Arthur and/or the various Knights of the Round Table and while many of them have been quite silly and forgettable (remember that one directest by Guy Ritchie that had Jude Law controlling what can only be described as a giant sex squid?), I can think of three (well, four, but “Knightriders,” George Romero’s magnificent modern-day take doesn’t quite count as a true Arthurian saga) that I would describe as great. There is “Lancelot du Lac,” an arrestingly austere take that remains my favorite film from the late Robert Bresson. There is “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which is not only one of the funniest films ever made but quite possibly the most accurate in terms of depicting what life was really like back then (not counting the coconuts). Lastly, there is John Boorman’s classic “Excalibur,” a film truly worthy of being described as visionary and one that remains as visually extraordinary and emotionally devastating as it was when it came out 40 years ago. In all three cases, the films succeeded because, at least in part, because they were put in the hands of strong and distinct filmmakers who presented the familiar stories in new ways that made them striking and unique, even if you otherwise had no particular burning interest in the subject.

At long last, an equal to those films has finally arrived in the form of “The Green Knight,” the long-awaited fantasy epic from writer-director David Lowery and it immediately deserves a place alongside the titles that I have just cited. Like so many other films, it had its release delayed by more than a year as a result of the shutdown of theaters due to pandemic concerns—believe me, this is not a film that you want tot experience for the first time on a television screen—and it is said that Lowery used the delay to go back into the film and rework it from its initial version to the one premiering now. I have no clue as to what it looked like originally but whatever changes were made were evidently for the better because the final film is pretty much a masterpiece—an audacious and often mesmerizing work that takes familiar narrative tropes and makes them feel thrillingly new in the most unexpected and exhilarating of ways.

Although King Arthur does make an appearance in the early going of “The Green Knight,” that, as the narrator puts it, is a story for another time as the focus here is on his nephew, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel). Life seems to be pretty easy for Gawain and while cheerful and friendly enough, even he is able to see through his sense of self-absorption to recognize that he hasn’t really done much of anything with his life so far, certainly not enough to back up his claims that his motivation in life is his sense of honor and his desire to one day become legendary. At a Christmas party thrown by his uncle (Sean Harris and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie) for the court, the festivities are interrupted by the fearsome Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a sort-of half-man/half-tree hybrid who poses a challenge to the partygoers—he will allow one of them to behead him right then and there if that same person promises to seek him out one year later on New Year’s Day, possibly so that he can return the favor. Gawain takes up the challenge, lops off the Green Knight’s head and is then somewhat perturbed to see him simply pick up his head and ride off with a reminder that he will be seeing Gawain next year.

The rest of the film consists of Gawain’s eventual quest to find the Green Knight and accept his potentially painful fate and if nothing else, the journey should give him the kind of personal story worthy of a knight of King Arthur—assuming he survives, of course. Along the way, he meets an array of unusual characters who challenge both his mission and his sense of self, including a scavenger (Barry Keoghan) and a mysterious woman (Erin Kellyman). The most significant of these visits/challenges comes in the form of an overly solicitous lord (Joel Edgerton) and his wife (Alicia Vikander, who also turns up earlier in the film as Gawain’s lover), both of whom offer him kindness and hospitality with the assurance that he will still have plenty of time to complete his mission. Accompanying Gawain for part of his journey is a fox, about whom I will say no more at this time.

This story, at least in the broadest of strokes, has been told before—it is based on the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and has been adapted to the screen a couple of times before, most infamously in the the 1984 cheapie “Sword of the Valiant,” in which the Green Knight was played in an inexplicable cameo by Sean Connery at a low point in his career and Gawain was portrayed by Miles O’Keefe at a high point in his. On the surface, it may seem like an unusual choice for Lowery, whose previous films have included “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the surprisingly strong remake of “Pete’s Dragon,” “A Ghost Story” and “The Old Man & the Gun,” to take on for his latest effort but it proves to be keeping perfectly in line with his oeuvre to date. Like his other films, this is a morality film about mortality and the ways in which we go about facing the inevitable, not to mention thoughts about legends and what it is about them that have such a hold on the psyche. Our lives are extended journeys with a preordained ending—the important thing is how one handles the various choices that they face along the way to that inevitable conclusion and knowing that it is those choices that will ultimately define who you are as a person. You can strip away all of the fantastical elements and, unlike far too many fantasy epics of recent vintage, what you are left with is a story as instantly recognizable and profoundly human as anything you could ever hope to hear. Lowery understands this and handles the material so beautifully that even if you have no particular interest in medieval fantasy—not that this film in any way resembles any version of such that you have ever seen before—he will hold you absolutely spellbound from the first frame to the last.

Just as mesmerizing as Lowery’s handling of the material is the performance as Gawain from Dev Patel, who has been in a lot of movies over the last decade or so but who is still probably best known for his breakthrough turn as the lead in “Slumdog Millionaire.” There was once a time—and probably still is in the minds of some—when the notion of someone like him appearing in any capacity in a film along these lines, let alone in a role like Gawain, would have been unthinkable. After seeing him play the part, i now cannot immediately think of anyone else working today who could have possibly pulled off what he accomplishes here. On the surface, he is as handsome, glib and charming as any classic matinee idol but underneath, he is a strong and gifted actor who proves just as capable of conveying Gawain’s sense of fear, doubt and vulnerability as he proceeds to his ultimate fate. It is a great performance, one that is topped off by a final scene that is absolutely perfect precisely because of the way that he approaches it. Make no mistake—the film is loaded with strong actors doing impressive work in the supporting cast (including Vikander doing double duty and Sarita Choudhury as Gawain’s mother, Morgan Le Fay) but what Patel does is pretty extraordinary, the kind that deserves all sorts of awards consideration even though it is likely to be overlooked because of prejudice by some over the fact that it is in what many would consider to be a genre film.

“The Green Knight” is one of those film that defies audience expectations at every turn and where every single element—such as the often-stunning cinematography from Andrew Droz Palermo—works so well that even as you are watching it, you can’t wait to see it again and again. Lowery takes the familiar and transforms it into something utterly original and distinctive—so original and distinctive, in fact, that some viewers may find themselves resisting its audacity, preferring the more overtly eager-to-please likes of something like “The Jungle Cruise.” That is a film that is genial enough but which evaporates from the mind seconds after you watch it. Lowery’s film, on the other hand, is likely to take up space in you mind for a long time after watching it, making you wish that other fantasy films would approach their material with even a sliver of the unique personal touch that he demonstrates here. This is a great film and one that is truly deserving of being seen in the theater on the biggest and best screen available to help bring its treasure most fully to life.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34468&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/28/21 11:30:50
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USA
  30-Jul-2021 (R)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2021

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  David Lowery

Written by
  David Lowery

Cast
  Dev Patel
  Alicia Vikander
  Joel Edgerton
  Sarita Choudhury
  Sean Harris
  Kate Dickie



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