MASUMI in Yakuza Princess (2021)
The Muramasa is a cursed, mysterious samurai sword. The spirits of all those slain by the Muramasa dwell in the weapon, waiting for the next victim to feast on their blood. When wielded, the sword transforms characters into killing machines. It’s an ancient rarity, a curse that imprisons souls and forges interconnected fates. As the tagline of Yakuza Princess goes, every sword has a story, and this film tells one of self-discovery in the hope of belonging somewhere. The film follows Akemi (MASUMI), who lives an unassuming life in São Paulo, Brazil. As the sole survivor of a family massacre in Osaka, in which she lost her grandfather, she finds protection in the form of martial arts training. Akemi’s teacher is a fatherly figure to her, parting words of wisdom to encourage her independence and growth. Suddenly, her world is thrown upside down when mysterious Japanese gangsters are out for her blood. In her search for why she’s being chased, Akemi uncovers a dark family secret and the power of Muramasa, which holds the key to illuminating answers about her grandfather’s death. The story is promising: in the protagonist’s journey through her family’s past, in the veiled intentions of mysterious characters, in the supernatural aura the sword carries, in the neon-lit visuals and action sequences. Yet, the experience of watching the film is surprisingly dull. Far duller than one can imagine from the potentiality of the story. Despite having a promising protagonist, Yakuza Princess is often weighed down by stiff character development, muddled storylines, and unfocused direction.
Directed by Vicente Amorim and based on the graphic novel Samurai Shirô by Danilo Beyrouth, Yakuza Princess has elements of fantasy weaved inside a neo-noir reality. The blend of genres is one of the more effective parts of the film. In the neighborhood of São Paulo, the largest Japanese diaspora in the world, Akemi settles temporarily. She works at a knick-knack store, longing for a change, pondering a move back to Japan, and thinking there has to be more out of life. A connection to the Yakuza crime syndicate and its relentless lieutenants is not what she had in mind. The presence of the Japanese mob, and the introduction to an amnesiac stranger Shirô (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) also tied to the Muramasa in another part of the neighborhood, carries the film down a violent rabbit hole of mysterious intentions and questionable loyalty.
Akemi stumbles on a dubious alliance with Shirô, who appears protective but he doesn’t remember who he is. All he’s told when he awakes from a hospital bed is he had been found with a sword. The meaning of the Muramasa sword drives both characters’ quests in different ways. But his quest is far less interesting, and the film spends a destructive amount of time with him. Not helping matters is a choppy performance by Rhys Meyers, who doesn’t bring much spark to his character. Far more compelling, though not without flaws, is Akemi's journey of self-discovery. The feeling of wanting to count for something and come from somewhere holds a universal power. Also interestingly at play is the role of destiny and its dark side. Caught up a nightmare of someone else’s doing, Akemi is living the consequences of a past that does not belong to her… a past she is being haunted by. The puzzle pieces of her grandfather’s death are imprinted within her. It is the sudden brush with the crime syndicate, led by lieutenant Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), that illuminates her search for answers.
In the switch between storylines, from Akemi to Shirô and the crime syndicate after them both, the film loses a clear focus and the emotional connection falls flat. The character development isn’t strong enough to weather the shifts from one perspective to another. The film has an intriguing protagonist at the center whose point of view gets sidetracked far too often. In a time when Akemi is searching for her purpose in life, she is caught in a dangerous web, through which she realizes the power within herself to break free from a path that is not hers and create a new path for herself. The film sets up for some emotional moments, but without the building blocks for strong characterization, these scenes deflate on impact. Left behind is a glimmer of promise for what could have been more resonating. One particular moment being the ending, a powerful badass moment for Akemi that should have packed a much bigger punch. While a lot of dialogue feels stilted, MASUMI still delivers a solid performance that helps carry along a film in which a lot of characters are putting on an act. Sometimes this works well, as in the case of Tsuyoshi Ihara’s performance, but for others such as Rhys Meyers, what is meant to be subtly hidden is confusing instead.
The consistency of Yakuza Princess is within the action choreography and neon visuals. The interplay of neon lights and darkness makes for some stunning scenes. Gustavo Hadba’s cinematography beautifully illuminates elements of a darkened frame. There’s also a great element of neo-noir manifested in the form of stylized sets; the film paints a moody setting and leads one down the path where danger is always felt from around the corner. Fast-moving and stylish, with a strong sense of setting, the fight sequences are the moments that inject spark back into an otherwise dull film. Vicente Amorim does not hold back on the violence and gore. These moments carry so much of the energy, leaving an imbalance with the dialogue and characterization. There’s a heaviness to the pacing of the story, and an inconsistency in the direction, that weighs the film down.
The majority of Akemi’s journey in Yakuza Princess sees her follow her grandfather’s footsteps. Who did he know? Which places did he visit before his death? As much as her grandfather wanted to bury his past, the past will still come knocking to the sole survivor of his immediate family. There is a missed opportunity in not establishing a clear focus with Akemi and staying with her perspective throughout the film. When she discovers the Muramasa, the power is literally back in her hands to break from a haunted past and forge a path of her own, separate from the dangerous ties that chase her. Yakuza Princess has promise in the protagonist’s journey and the connection it holds with the ancient sword, but ultimately gets lost in a collection of uninteresting characters and dull storytelling.
Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper in Ma Belle, My Beauty (2021)
Time. It’s the one thing we can’t make more of. When the passing of time is truly felt, the response can be incredibly emotional…full of longing. Mourning missed opportunities. The longing for a meaningful, everlasting human connection takes on different manifestations in Ma Belle, My Beauty. The debut feature film, written and directed by New Orleans filmmaker Marion Hill, explores the residue of a break up in a queer polymerous relationship. Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Lane (Hannah Pepper) used to live together in New Orleans. After a falling out, Lane disappeared for two years. Bertie got married to their shared partner Fred (Lucien Guignard) and moved to the South of France, where the film is set. Out of the blue, upon Fred’s invite and unbeknownst to Bertie, Lane shows up at their beautiful villa with a front row view to the couple’s fancy new musical life. Bertie is in a rut, creatively and personally. Now with Lane back in the picture, Fred hopes the spark they once shared can reignite her passion as a performer.
Amidst the al fresco dinners and breezy summer vibes is a complicated surprise reunion. Marion Hill captures romantic tension well. She shows the ease with which passionate feelings can be reignited from a single look or a meeting. Ma Belle, My Beauty unearths the emotional baggage of a once hopeful, promising relationship. So much of the film is about yearning. Bertie and Lane, presently on two completely different tracks in life, navigate through the aftermath of a relationship. Pining glances, rekindled admiration, bottled up confusion, and tense conversations map out the fact that these characters have a history. But where the film loses its compelling ingredient is in actually creating and fleshing out a history for the characters. While there are intriguing themes at play about longing for what was lost, not enough time is given to establishing who Bertie and Lane are beyond the relationship that ties them together. Bertie in particular is often trying to carve out her own path, instead of being whoever everyone else wants her to be. Everyone around her seems to want a piece, and the film skirts over crafting a well developed character that shows more insight into her individuality. There are plenty of enigmatic glances with the promise of an elaboration that never really arrives.
The more Hill’s story stretches out, the more emotional investment wanes and the cracks in a promising foundation begin to appear. Longing manifests in different ways; there’s Bertie, who doesn’t feel happy in the situation she’s in. She carries understandable frustration from essentially being ghosted by her partner. She has an intriguing scene with Lane on the conversation of happiness not being tied to her, nor Fred. But there’s a missed opportunity in not delving further into Bertie’s point of view; wonderful as Idella Johnson is playing Bertie, both acting and singing-wise, her character feels underwritten and often in service of other characters. Then there’s Lane, single and reminiscing on the reasons why. She carries a pang of regret from leaving and not keeping in touch with Bertie, thus missing out on life events she otherwise would have been there for. A crucial space the film doesn’t fill is the exploration of Lane leaving; it becomes the source to which the protagonists often return when they find moments of connecting with their past. The film relies a lot on what’s left unsaid between two people, and how this often manifests through physical yearning. Though what’s left unsaid doesn’t always provide an insightful or compelling window into who the characters are. Johnson, along with Hannah Pepper who plays Lane, bring great subtlety and quiet moments of contemplation to life. But their performances ultimately feel inhibited by a screenplay working often on brisk presumptions.
The carefree quality that works to the film’s disadvantage is also what makes it refreshing in other respects. There’s a lightheartedness in Marion Hill’s approach to the story and atmosphere. Ma Belle, My Beauty captures the breezy feeling of summertime. Lauren Guiteras’ cinematography gives a beautiful glow to the film. The soundtrack evokes an easygoing atmosphere, perhaps a little too much in this direction given the dramatic climax that Hill tries to go for. While uneven in direction at times, Hill strongly conveys the feeling of throwing caution to the wind. So much of the film operates on physicality, whether it’s fleeting glances or moments of intimacy. A lot is happening on the surface, without really delving into detail about reasoning. Hill strikes a strong parallel to the character of Lane, described by Bertie as the type of person who will enter someone’s life, mess things up, and leave behind remnants of emotional baggage. Without worrying about the effects her leaving would have on Bertie’s wellbeing, Lane fuels a sense of tension. The space between them only intensifies with the passing of time, and what comes with it is the loss that they’ll never get that time back.
Ma Belle, My Beauty explores the ease with which two people can go in totally different directions when there’s been a distance between them, both physically and emotionally. There’s a refreshing aspect to the way Hill maps out the story, that she doesn’t provide a bowtie ending where all hope is restored and the stars align again. Instead, she poses the question of whether the stars were aligned in the first place. The protagonists can’t simply pick up where they left off, which makes for a potentially interesting narrative that doesn’t get to really soar. So much of the film is spent wondering about the characters’ intentions and finding a way to get to know them better. Left behind is the longing to spend more time with them.
Emilia Jones in CODA (2021)
Get a box of tissues ready for writer-director Sian Heder’s heartwarming film CODA, a coming-of-age story full of lived-in family dynamics that aren’t often represented on screen. Based on the 2014 French film The Bélier Family, CODA instantly improves upon its source of narrative inspiration by casting Deaf actors (including Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant) in the roles of Deaf characters. Heder portrays the Deaf community with rich emotional journeys and a broad range of traits, championing their perspectives in a compassionate way. At the core of this film is the love language of a family, specifically the Rossi’s and all the qualities that make them who they are. CODA is a thoughtful, impeccably acted journey about the intimacy of family connections.
Set in the blue-collar fishermen world in Cambridge, Massachusetts, CODA incorporates elements shared and not shared between the hearing and the Deaf community. The story follows Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a child of Deaf adults who is the only hearing person in her home. She wakes up early every morning to catch fish with her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant). She goes to school, hangs out with her friend Gertie (Amy Forsyth), has a crush on Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and on a spur of the moment joins the choir. Music is Ruby’s lifeline. Whether she’s singing along to songs on her family’s boat, adding a soundtrack to her bike ride, or making use of the record player in her bedroom, music is around in resonating little details. In a sea of pretty voices with nothing to say, Ruby’s music teacher Mr. V, formally Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), spots her real talent. She has a lot to convey, and does so with a stunning singing voice. Mr. V urges her to perform a duet with Miles and audition for a prestigious music school in Boston. Her passion for singing is something her parents, including mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin), are trying to connect with. Then when the family’s business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between family obligations and her dedication to music.
Ruby is a refreshingly written character in the canon of formulaic coming-of-age films. The push-pull dynamic between following her passion and being present to support her parents is rooted in sincerity. Rather than antagonize her family and create a one-note narrative, CODA explores the grey areas in creating an identity apart from one’s family. The film focuses on the stage of Ruby’s life where, for the first time, she’s on the cusp of doing something without her family. All the complex emotions that come with this responsibility are conveyed with ease by Emilia Jones. She does a remarkable job carrying the film and giving a window into the soul of her character, who has a lot on her shoulders as an interpreter. Ruby’s family count on her to voice what they sign for the hearing world, a world that is not often facilitative of Deaf culture. The film gives a voice to many perspectives from the family; not only Ruby who feels that her stuff is important too, but also Leo for instance, who stresses he’s capable of navigating the hearing world without her. He wants the family to finally be part of their community, and sees the potential of starting their own fishing business as a great opportunity to interact with others.
Sian Heder writes complex, well developed characters full of personality and disposition. The actors add an incredible depth to the Rossi family; each of their performances are lived-in and rich in detail. Simply watching the family interact with one another is an integral part of what makes the film so charming. It’s an instantly feel-good story that invites a wholesome look into how the Rossi family communicate with each other, the warmth of their home life, and how this setting facilitates a sense of togetherness where they’ve become such a tight-knit unit. The stories that happen inside Deaf people's homes are missing from representation in film and television. So often, Deaf characters are solely defined by being Deaf, and their narratives are not centered. It’s wonderful to see a film that is pushing for authenticity on screen. Also watching how Frank, Jackie, and Leo navigate the hearing world is equally compelling, as Heder shines a light on many of the ways in which this world is not inclusive of Deaf culture. There is both a specificity and universality to how the family are depicted.
Amy Forsyth, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin, and Troy Kotsur in CODA (2021)
Eugenio Derbez in CODA (2021)
Adding to the lived-in quality of these characters is an outstanding ensemble of actors who deliver such resonating performances. Everyone in the Rossi family has their moment to truly shine and provide a window into their characters’ interior lives. Troy Kotsur in particular is an incredibly expressive actor, and he has some of the most moving scenes in the story as Ruby’s father Frank. He has a stunning moment with Emilia Jones towards the end of the film where, having returned home after a school concert, Frank gently holds Ruby’s neck to feel the reverberations of her vocals as she sings to him personally. Emotional moments such as this, sprinkled throughout the film, convey how CODA is less about a musical journey and more about a family understanding each other. The intimacy of Frank sitting with his daughter, in an embrace as he tries to understand her passion, comes from a genuine place and that is what makes the film so emotionally resonating. Speaking of loving embraces, Jackie shares a similar scene with Ruby in terms of finding a way to connect. As Jackie sits on her daughter’s bed, thinking about the day she was born and revealing initial worry that they wouldn’t connect, so much is said about these characters. Sian Heder finds gems of moments in vulnerable, intimate, comforting places, and the actors go on this search with her. Marlee Matlin gives a fantastic performance, so full of energy and longing. Daniel Durant is also great as Ruby’s brother Leo; he too gets a resonating moment to shine. Durant strongly conveys the frustration bubbling underneath the surface about how Ruby’s hesitance to follow her dreams has an effect on the family. CODA has a stellar ensemble of actors beyond the Rossi family, from Eugenio Derbez and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo to Amy Forsyth, all of whom are entertaining to watch.
The coming-of-age genre is riddled with cliches and trappings that plenty of films fall into. While CODA feels a little formulaic at times, setting up the story to reach certain emotional heights, Sian Heder does a great job subverting a lot of expectations. Music is an integral part of the story; the soundtrack is lovely, as is Emilia Jones’ singing voice, especially in her big audition scene with Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now'. Music also doesn’t command the focus. At the core of CODA is a family; how do they communicate, how do they connect or not connect, how do they share or not share in each other’s experiences. Rather than relegate the protagonist’s family to cheer from the sidelines, they are actively involved in the story. Ruby and Miles’ duet for their school concert is a winning example; this scene could have easily become Ruby’s star moment. Heder re-centers the focus onto Frank and Jackie sitting in the audience; how are they experiencing the concert. How do they navigate the space of a hearing community and find a connection with their daughter on stage? Whether it’s this scene, or an emotional final act that brings on the heavy sobs, all these moments emphasize the Rossi family’s love language as the beating heart of the film.
CODA is full of heart. It’s an uplifting story about family obligations and following your own path while wrestling with the guilt of being away from your family, particularly for the first time. Sian Heder’s winning screenplay, and an outstanding ensemble of actors who lift her words off the page, is a love letter to family. The film gives an immersive window into the Rossi home and all the details that make up their tight-knit dynamics. Right down to the set design details and the creation of an overall home that looks lived-in, everything feels rooted in depictions that feel passionately true. Moving and impeccably acted, CODA makes a reverberating impact as a thoughtful piece of work.
CODA will be released on Apple TV+ starting August 13th.
Lindsay Burdge and Jade Eshete in Materna (2021)
“I drink to the ruined house, to the evil of my life, to our loneliness together, and I drink to you.”
This excerpt from Anna Akhmatova’s poem, The Last Toast, suggests overwhelming defeat. A toast to succumbing on a path of loneliness and strained relationships. An abrupt finality of hopes and dreams. The poetry of The Last Toast is a fitting way for writer-director David Gutnik to introduce his feature directorial debut. Materna is a multi-stranded psychological portrait of four women who are experiencing inner turmoil. Making use of an anthology format, their stories are woven together by an incident on the New York City subway. A fateful encounter they all happen to witness puts their futures and all hope of personal transformation at stake. As glimpses of the underground plot cut in and out, the film spends time on each of the four women, strangers to one another but embodying themes that are universal. Their distinct inner worlds and emotional journeys bring some intriguing perspectives to the screen. While the film feels disjointed at times, the actors do the heavy lifting to make this character-driven piece worth the ride as it builds to an unsettling conclusion.
Materna showcases an incredibly talented cast of actors, each of whom personifies various perspectives of self-actualization. Jean, Mona, Ruth, and Perizad lead radically different lives across NYC. Jean (Kate Lyn Sheil) lives alone, works for a visual effects company, and has a complicated relationship with her mother. Mona (Jade Eshete) is a working actor who, feeling the stress from a distant relationship with her mother, channels her emotions into monologues. Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) and her family carry ignorant beliefs and bigotry in a hotbed of conversations over the dining room table. Perizad (Assol Abdullina) returns home after the death of her uncle, and discovers a family truth that her grandmother has kept hidden. The film observes a slice of the women’s worlds before they hop onto the subway. Each slice feels like its own fully realized narrative, shown one after another like a series of short films while the subway plot builds in between. One of the benefits of seeing Materna play out as an anthology is hearing the voices of different performers. Eshete and Abdullina, who are also co-writers on the film, bring so much conviction to their characters and shine as the standouts of the cast.
While the anthology format opens up a world of different perspectives, some stories are naturally more interesting than others. Mona and Perizad’s segments resonate the most, while Jean and Ruth’s segments wear on too long and feel contrived. The separated storylines drag down the pacing of the film as a whole. Each one also works best independently of one another, rather than joined narratively in orbit around the subway incident. As disjointed as the interconnected storylines feel, there are a lot of intriguing ideas at play. One of the constant threads in the film surrounds loss in motherhood, whether it be the loss of a child, the loss of a thriving mother-daughter relationship, the loss of morality and teachings. All the while, characters who appear to be a lost cause are trying to regain hope, even if just for a moment. When Jean has a traumatic experience, she instinctively calls her mother, but can’t bring herself to say anything on the line. When Mona reaches out to her mother, she hopes to finally be met halfway. The title of the film makes an interesting implication that in this story, the feelings typically associated with a mother or being motherly are missing. Instead of focusing on the quintessential adjectives of a maternal relationship (warm, tender, kind nurturing, gentle), Materna explores another side to motherhood that is a difficult and draining reality for many.
The title Materna also evokes a digitized quality and speaks to the over reliance of technology, not only for primary source of communication but as a substitution for face-to-face relationships. Jean and Mona in particular have relationships with their mothers that exist strictly over phone calls and texts. David Gutnik sparks interesting discussion about the solitude that can come with technology, and how digital forms of communication become almost like the final thread that hold long-distance or strained relationships together. In these instances where there’s so much to lose, the weight of every conversation is felt so deeply. The film really gives all the actors space to bring the characters to life for a brief moment in time. Materna is a character-driven drama about the spaces between words; what’s left unsaid between people, the frustration of not being met halfway, the difficulty of revealing true selves, how loss shapes the dynamic of relationships. There’s a stunning scene in Perizad’s storyline, where three generations of women are linked arm in arm as they share in an emotional moment without saying a word. For the most part, the actors certainly do the heavy lifting in the film; the intertwining stories would fall apart without the nuance of their performances.
Beyond the four women’s stories is a recurring plot that takes place on the NYC subway, where a man harasses some of them directly and creates an increasingly hostile environment. There are mixed emotions in watching their stories framed around the actions of this man. While the intertwining narratives don’t fully click together, again there are a lot of interesting ideas at play underneath it all. The man on the subway embodies an essentially one-note performance, whose every moment in frame is spent interjecting and invading women’s personal space. It’s a thoughtful reflection of how women’s experiences and thoughts are so often undermined by men who assert dominance. The subway setting is a strong embodiment particularly of women who are carrying the complexities of their worlds, while also being women on the subway: subjected to relentless harassment by men.
Materna explores interesting themes through the lens of different perspectives, and makes good use of setting. Beyond the interconnectedness of the subway, the film explores people’s personal spaces and how they navigate them when no one else is around. What do they feel comfortable doing in the privacy of their homes, and how does that facilitate a sense of loneliness? The contrast between facing personal challenges and pulling one’s self together in public is a distinct feeling that the film captures well. Materna delves into psychological portraits, some far more resonating than others, about strained family matters and personal growth. While the buildup on the subway leads to an underwhelming conclusion, this feature directorial debut shows promise as a solid character-driven story.
Dev Patel in The Green Knight (2021)
Epic is the first word that comes to mind on first watch of David Lowery’s The Green Knight. The A24-produced film is a medieval tale told in a hypnotic trance. It’s an immersive experience that swirls in thought-provoking ideas and leaves plenty behind to digest. It’s also a deeply challenging experience to watch unfold. The Green Knight feels lightyears away from fully grasping, yet so incredibly intimate and confronting in nature. The story moves in bewitching ways, with mysterious magic reverberating from the screen. It’s a constant wonder where the film is going, which epitomizes the enigmatic quality of Lowery’s storytelling. He has the ability to craft an absorbing world that feels experimental and grounded at the same time. Lowery engages in so many interesting themes, from lust and chivalry to protecting the environment. With poetic symbolism and vivid cinematography, The Green Knight floats like a painting. It’s a complex tale of knighthood that questions how far one would go to uphold such a title and claim its responsibilities (and consequences). In a time when honor is everything and when courage makes kings, a fitting tagline, the protagonist’s desire to prove his worth to his kingdom drives a deep character journey through a medieval fantasy.
Adapted from the 14th-century poem of the same name, The Green Knight follows the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), the headstrong nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris). After striking a mysterious gigantic tree creature known as The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) in a sudden duel, Gawain agrees to embark on a quest one year later to confront the Knight, under one condition. The emerald creature is allowed to strike him back in the same manner that he imposed upon it. Does Gawain possess the courage to allow a pre-determined fate bestowed upon him? What will he do when met with mortality? In a test for the ages, Gawain stumbles into a realm of schemers, ghosts, a talking fox, and other mystical entities in his journey to face the ultimate challenger. The film is a stunning meditation on the inevitability of death, as well as how fragile and precious time on earth really is.
Gawain is a fascinating protagonist to lead this journey of self-discovery and defining one’s character in crucial moments. Gawain explores what it means to adopt knighthood; what are the responsibilities and consequences, what does the life of a knight look like, what does strength look like. The film is full of beautiful dreamlike sequences where he’s called upon to define his character. Each new mystical character introduced along the way to the Green Knight gives added depth to Gawain and powerfully reflects his own headspace. Are these characters a manifestation of his self-worth? Are they the visual embodiment of who he thinks a knight must collide with on the path to nobility and chivalry? The romanticism of Gawain’s journey, and the realization he comes to about real courage, is spellbinding to watch unfold. The film swirls in resonating ideas about the price of ambition, and the question of whether one can maintain a good-hearted nature in a lust for success. The final act in particular is a shattering epitome of the difference between playing a part and being true, between wanting the glory of a title and being ready to give oneself up to the mercy of a higher calling.
The character work in The Green Knight is an impressive achievement, not only with the protagonist but also the enigmatic supporting characters he collides with on his journey. The scheming Scavenger (Barry Keoghan) who weasels into frame with dubious curiosity, the regal Lady (Alicia Vikander) and scruffy Lord (Joel Edgerton) who welcome Gawain into their kingdom, Gawain’s Mother (Sarita Choudhury) keeping watchful eye back at Camelot. The Lord and Lady epitomize the more lustful aspects of the film, where a sensual love triangle is formed. In retrospect of watching the film, there is something slightly illusionary about these characters, as though they are being projected from Gawain’s own psyche. In any case, they each represent wildly different paths in Gawain’s quest to reach the Green Knight, one of the more interesting characters in the film. So much about the relationship between Gawain and the Knight brings up a resonating parallel to human beings vs. nature. In this tale, nature strikes back against the damage humans have so brazenly inflicted upon the earth. Gawain is at the mercy of nature, as he is with the inevitability of mortality. All the while tries to hold onto a sense of goodheartedness in his chosen path to knightly success.
David Lowery maintains an incredible sense of curiosity from beginning to end; the story goes to earthy, mysterious places that feel wondrous and unexpected. Gawain’s disillusionment of trying to follow a path to greatness while being at mercy to a higher power is captured so well on screen. The pacing of the film feels like a puzzle, without the frustration of looking to piece everything together all at once. The Green Knight is a beguiling story to follow. There are many interesting moving parts to unpack and digest. The film leaves behind a strong desire to return to this mythical world for more, thanks in large part to the actors Lowery has assembled and the atmosphere that has been so beautifully crafted. With a mighty performance by Dev Patel, the character of Gawain is brought to life so vividly. His curiosity and sheer ambition for honor are such a treat to watch. As well, the ruinous depths his character falls into in the final act of the film are a staggering display of Patel’s talent. His work is a wonderful embodiment of the internalized journey Gawain goes on, from romanticizing his quest to being overwhelmingly humbled by nature. The supporting cast turn in solid performances and most make a memorable mark, notably Alicia Vikander as Lady and Sean Harris as King Arthur. Most of all, the stunning voice work by Ralph Ineson as the titular Knight. His voice really brings the character to another level and commands the screen. Adding to the enchanting experience of the film are strong mystical characters, from a talking fox and headless ghost to giants in the sky. As well, Daniel Hart’s haunting score which kicks in at the most fitting times, and the absolutely beautiful cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo. Every frame looks like a painting.
The film is a hypnotizing, striking tale of honor in which there is plenty to unpack and ruminate on. Lowery’s adaptation of a rich text brings magic to the story that feels endlessly full of new discoveries and interpretations. There’s a strangely inviting quality to this film; the story has a magnetic pull and fires on all cylinders. With strong performances, stunning cinematography, and an evocative score, the story comes alive as a fascinating study of character. The Green Knight is an unforgettable psychological tale of medieval times, casting a bold spell and maintaining its enchantment.