The Green Knight review: strange, beautiful, but hard to love

I guess from the title you can probably tell what I thought of this movie. It’s one of those I file under ‘critics love it but audiences don’t really get it’. Well, when I say audiences, I mean people like me. And I suppose I could say that I did get it, in that I understood what the filmmakers were trying to do. I just didn’t love it.

And so it also gets filed under ‘movies that impressed me and I appreciated the craft that went into making them, but I don’t want to see them a second time’. Quite a wordy filing system, I imagine you might say, but you get the idea.

To backtrack a second, The Green Knight (2021) is directed by David Lowery, who made his name with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013). This movie is written, directed and produced by Lowery and is adapted from 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain, in this case, being played by Dev Patel. The plot kicks off when Gawain is challenged by the Green Knight. He then sets off on a quest, aka the hero’s journey, to do a thing. Only Patel’s Gawain is no hero. He’s not even a decent knight, to be honest.

Along the way he meets various characters which teach him things. There’s the Lady (Alicia Vikander), the Lord (Joel Edgerton), the scavenger (Barry Keoghan), and Winifred (Erin Kellyman). In this regard it feels classic fairytale which, told by another director in a different tone with different pacing, would no doubt be a lot of fun, or at least engage me more.

The trouble I had with this movie is precious little happens in terms of plot. There’s very little dialogue and things move at a glacial pace. The main positive thing I have to say is that everything looked gorgeous. The cinematography is simply stunning.

The issue is, I just didn’t care that much about the characters, in particular Gawain – and this is a problem for any movie, surely? If your audience is struggling to find a way into the character, then something isn’t right… right?

Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe this film wasn’t meant for me. Although I love knights, pagan things, journeys, sword fights… all that stuff. I have to admit, before this movie started a trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming movie The Last Duel played. At the end of the movie I found myself thinking I wish I’d been watching that movie instead.

Don’t get me wrong, The Green Knight isn’t bad, it’s just a very specific movie that plays at its own pace and is one ‘loaded with symbolism’. If that’s your kind of thing you’ll be happy. As I get older, I come to realise I just don’t have the patience (or attention span) that I used to, and I need something a little more from my storytelling in order to engage me and make me care.

So, all in all, it’s a masterpiece if this is your kind of style of filmmaking, or you’re a film critic. But for a lot of us, it’s a three star movie (out of five stars).

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