Cinematic Releases: The Green Knight (2021) - Reviewed

Courtesy of A24 Films
The anonymous Middle English 14th century medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, that Arthurian tale of chivalric romance concerning King Arthur’s knight of the round table Sir Gawain who accepts a challenge to the death from a mystical “Green Knight”, has remained an indelible component of heroic European fantasy adventure lore in contemporary literary and cinematic fiction.  Originally comprised of a series of poems chronicling the protagonist’s odyssey, the collection directly influenced such prominent fantasy authors as J.R.R. Tolkien and Simon Armitage as well as spawning numerous cinematic adaptations such as Gawain and the Green Knight in 1973 and again with Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The latest long-awaited (and still delayed in some territories) big screen adaptation of the text, simply called The Green Knight, comes from none other than A24 and A Ghost Story director David Lowery and as such represents both a modern interpretation as well as an artistic deconstruction of the text itself.  Starring Dev Patel in the leading role as Sir Gawain who accepts the challenge to behead The Green Knight provided he accepts a return blow from the blade of the knight a year later, Lowery’s scenic, psychedelic odyssey through the Middle-Ages awash with fantastical magical realism is a hypnotic sensory feast as well as one of the most peculiar new imaginings of a renowned literary text in recent memory.

Courtesy of A24 Films
Largely episodic in form and bullet pointed by occasional onscreen subtitles indicating where we are in Gawain’s sojourn, The Green Knight isn’t your typical adult fantasy epic.  Much closer to the graphically violent and carnal world of John Boorman’s Excalibur by way of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah rather than The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit films, this is the kind of film that demands patience, an open mind and for you to be willing to suspend your disbelief for two hours.  

One of the ways The Green Knight works so well is due to the lush cinematographic palette by Andrew Droz Palermo who lenses the Irish castles and countryside handsomely and distantly.  Then there’s the film’s jarring atonal soundtrack by Daniel Hart which sounds like the nightmarish lovechild of Krzysztof Penderecki and Gyorgy Ligeti, lending a mood that’s at once heavenly and terrifying.
Performance wise the acting is indeed very good with the ensemble cast of characters Sir Gawain comes into contact with including Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury and Sean Harris though most will recognize Dunkirk actor Barry Koeghan in an unlikely cameo as a vagrant.  Mostly however, the film rests on a largely physically taxing performance from the bearded Dev Patel who spends much of the film either in the woods, in the water or in mountainous terrain.  

Courtesy of A24 Films

As daunting to watch for what the actors went through making the trek through the countryside as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising and just as strangely magical as Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, The Green Knight might well be one of A24’s most ambitious productions to date.  For writer-director David Lowery (currently shooting a new Disney Peter Pan film) in his second stint with the company, The Green Knight proves not only to be the filmmaker’s most accomplished work to date but also is more than well worth the wait!

--Andrew Kotwicki