The Green Knight (2021) Review (600th Review)
WELL DONE, MY BRAVE KNIGHT!
The names of Camelot, Excalibur, Lancelot, Morgana, Merlin, and Arthur Pendragon are some of the main staples to the many different iterations of the Arthurian legends of King Arthur. Taking inspiration from many the tales of British folklore, the legend of King Arthur has been told and retold through a multitude of accounts, finding its origins within 12th century medieval England. With the passing of the tale, the story of Arthur has passed through the ages, reimagined and refined the British figure into a legend in both folklore and in literary. While many novels and books have written on the legend of King Arthur, none is more famous than version written by English novelist T.H. White titled “The Once and Future King”, which consist of the widely and well-known part of the Arthurian tale (i.e., The Sword in the Stone). Much like the literary world, Hollywood as a plethora of cinematic tales (made for the big and small screen) that represent the legend of King Arthur. This includes Disney’s 1963 animated feature The Sword in the Stone and 1998’s Quest for Camelot, the films 1995’s First Knight and 2004’s King Arthur, 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, 2019’s The Kid Would Be King, and 1998’s television movie Merlin amongst many others. Now, A24 Studios and director David Lowery present a new cinematic representation of the Arthurian mythos with the release of The Green Knight; based on the epic tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Does the movie provide some new insight into this old legend or does the feature’s unorthodox methods of storytelling weigh the movie down?
Years after the events King Arthur (Sean Harris) pulling the sword from the stone, it’s Christmas Day in Camelot, with glad tidings for celebration and merriment on this yuletide holiday. Joining the king is his wife, Guinevere (Kate Dickie), his stepsister Morgan le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), his nephew Gawain (Dev Patel), and a host of his knights. While the celebration is in full swing, a sudden appearance shrouded the joyous event when the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a mystery and enigmatic knightly being, appears in Camelot, issuing a challenge to those who can strike him down. Gawain answers the challenge and cuts the knight’s head off, only pick up his own head and issuing that the challenge is not complete. The Green Knight states that Gawain must seek him out in the Green Chapel, knight’s forest grove dwelling, a year from now to finish the challenge before riding off and steadily departs Camelot. A year passes by and Gawain, who is hesitant of face such a looming challenge, ventures forth on a journey that will test the young knight’s faith, courage, and self-worth; facing obstacles and fantastical situations that are leading him closer to his reunion with the Green Knight and the ultimate sacrifice he must make…. his own life.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Okay, so this might sound familiar, but taken some piece of this paragraph (and the opening paragraph) from my review for both King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Kid Who Would Be King, for both serve in what I wanted to convey in those reviews about Arthurian legend and does so again in this review. So, trust me, I’m not just simply “cutting and pasting” because of I’m lazy (scouts honor). So…. with my love of all things fantasy, the various Arthurian legends of King Arthur have definitely crossed my paths many, many times through my life. Like many my age, my first introduction to the story was through Disney’s animated film The Sword in the Stone, finding the tale of Arthur (commonly known as Wart) and his wacky adventures with the mystical Merlin a gateway into the broader legend of King Arthur. From there, I’ve read, learned, and watched several other variations of the King Arthur, including several cartoon series (most notably with Disney’s Gargoyles) and films (First Knight and the TV movie Merlin). I still haven’t read T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” novel yet, but I do plan to someday. Thus, by now, I’m somewhat well-versed in the Arthurian legend (and its many adaptations) to get the main gist of the legendary tale of Arthur Pendragon.
This brings me back to talking about The Green Knight, a 2021 medieval fantasy film and a A24 studio release. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about this movie, but I do remember hearing that A24 studios, a movie studio that is renowned for their artistic integrity within their feature films, was going to be adapting an Arthurian style narrative into a movie. I then later learned that the project was going to be focusing on the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I wasn’t too familiar with the original epic, with the only inclination being it was from the Arthurian legend, so I knew it was going probably feature characters from the King Arthur mythos (i.e., Arthur, Merlin, Morgan Le Fey, etc.). After that, I really didn’t hear much beyond that actor Dev Patel was attached to the project and was going to be the main lead…. assuming he was playing Gawain. Then the film’s movie trailer appeared online and, while I didn’t pay much attention the first trailer, the second one definitely caught my interest; showcasing some intriguing imagery that looked to be a darker and gritter take on the Arthurian narrative. So, when the movie was released, which was around July 30t , 2021 in the US, as I saw the film (in theaters) a few after its release. Sadly, with my busy work schedule, getting my review for The Green Knight got pushed aside and ultimately delayed getting it done completely. Now, that I’m starting to play “catch up” with all my reviews, I finally have a chance to explain (and explore) what I thought of this film? So, what did I think of this movie? Well, I actually really kind of liked it. While its presentation is wonky at times and steeped in a few confusing ambiguity, The Green Knight is a masterful stroke of cinematic proportions; garnishing a very atmospheric and gritty reimagining of the classic Arthurian tale. It’s definitely not for everyone, but the journey presented feels creatively done and more original than most cinematic endeavors…. making the movie itself worth a look.
The Green Knight is directed by David Lowery, whose previous directorial works include such films like Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story, and The Old Man & the Gun. With the exception of Pete’s Dragon, I was unfamiliar with Lowery’s directing skills, with many finding A Ghost Story and The Old Man and the Gun to be more of his “artistic” approach and gained credibility in that way. So, I kind of went into The Green Knight with very little pre-conceived knowledge of Lowery’s directing, so I couldn’t pass judgement on what was his unique styles of helming a project like this. That being said, his style is made perfectly clear within the feature’s opening few minutes; projecting a more gritty and realistic narrative that juxtaposes a fantasy epic. Perhaps the one very unique aspect that Lowery does with The Green Knight is how he makes it his own by choosing to present the movie in somewhat non-traditional manner. Well, not non-traditional isn’t the right word, but rather a different approach to what many studio would’ve done with this Arthurian tale. To be sure, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is ripe for a cinematic treatment as many major Hollywood studios would’ve chosen a more straightforward interpretation of this classic tale, including a more blockbuster-ish feeling of a multitude of CGI characters / construct creations, characters exposition dumps, and a more happy, conclusive ending., all of which would be to capture a wider net of viewers. Lowery’s The Green Knight isn’t that and that is really good thing, with the director approaching the source material in a way that differentiate itself from what many would try to present the story with. One example of this is that…. the movie doesn’t linger too long the whole King Arthur mythos, with opening of the film stating that this not the movie (tale) about “the boy who pulled sword from stone”. Characters like Arthur, Guinevere, and Morgan Le Fey are present in the film, but Lowery makes them for secondary supporting players in the movie; keeping the focus on Sir Gawain and his personal journey that he must undergo. Thus, the filmmaking style is very different (and do mean very different) from the norm and the pay off actually works; finding the movie to be effective it what Lowery’s vision is and creates something that feels more original and even creative than a lot of film releases of 2021. In my reviews, I usually draw criticism towards movies on how “generic” they are or how “predictable” they are. Well, I really didn’t feel that way with The Green Knight and that is probably why I enjoyed it. Yes, there were some things that I knew that were going to happen, but it wasn’t like that for a great majority of the film, which kept me invested in the movie’s journey from start to finish. Plus, I do have mention that the movie’s ending climax sequences is beautifully handled, and I do have to give Lowery some great big kudo points; presenting a montage scene that captivating and haunting at the same time. Good stuff!
Lowery also pulls “double duty” on The Green Knight acting as both director and the script writer for the feature. As I mentioned above, I somewhat knew of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by name only and really didn’t delve into the story itself. I actually did read the summary of it after I saw this movie, so I became a bit familiar with the original source material. To be sure, Lowery does take a few liberties in transition Sir Gawain’s tale into a cinematic feature film, but also does expand upon the original story, especially in the side quests that Gawain goes on throughout his journey to meet the Green Knight. In that regard, I do applaud Lowery’s work by showcasing more trials and hardships that the young knight must face overcome before reaching his fated reunion with the enigmatic knight. That’s not to say that Lowery devoid the feature of the universal themes and messages that the original epic evokes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as the film’s narrative is steeped with thematic elements that are wrapped together in this medieval fantasy. How so? Well, there’s themes of acceptance, self-worth, loyalty, temptation, seduction, and honor….and that’s quite a lot of thematic messages and lessons to be presented in a movie. However, Lowery’s script for the film works it all in and delivers such a powerful message along the way. Some are more subtle than others, but there are quite clear when piecing together the growth of Gawain character and the journey he undergoes throughout the course of the movie. Looking beyond that, Lowery makes the film have that fairytale-esque feeling, but it set in a more realistic world with a darker / adult elements lingering throughout its texture and atmospheric tendencies. Thus, it goes without saying, it’s a good idea to go into this movie with a more opened minded approach in how everything is not going to be very straightforward. Basically, Lowery’s The Green Knight is something akin Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water or maybe even a little bit of Tim Burton’s Big Fish; thematical themes that are set within a more sometimes fantastical surreal (dream-like) events and / or grounded with more darker adult themes.
In its presentation, The Green Knight is gorgeously rendered to behold by blending realism and fantasy-esque imagery together within its film’s world. Visually speaking, the realism tone that Lowery convey in his movie feels life-like and organic; depicting the naturalistic feel of a medieval setting rather than a fanciful fairytale-esque world that (as I said) that Hollywood would’ve decided to choose. Because of this, the movie’s background setting has some grit within its landscape and set pieces; feeling a bit worn down, but something more natural. That’s not to say that feature’s fantasy appeal isn’t there, with the visual flairs of picturesque forests and locations popping in and out of the story as well as fantastic creatures for Gawain to encounter. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Louise Matthews, Christine McDonagh, and David Pink (art direction), Jade Healy (production design), Jenny Oman (set decorations), and Malgosia Turzanska (costume design) for their efforts in shaping The Green Knight’s visual world in both a surreal dream-like way and grounded in realism. Additionally, aiding in that notion is the cinematography work by Andrew Droz Palermo that helps further bringing this medieval world to cinematic life. There are a few technical problems and aesthetics that Palermo that become a distraction (I’ll mention that below), but his work keeps the feature visually entertaining and definitely lends credit into Lowery’s vision of this Arthurian legend. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Daniel Hart, is quite compelling soundtrack; presenting a musical arrangement of pieces together, with some being hauntingly unease and others being beautifully soft….all are which wrapped in a medieval style-esque melodies, including a few songs. Definitely a good soundtrack for the movie soundtrack fans out there.
Unfortunately, The Green Knight, despite its unique presentation and filmmaking setup, will have many (and I do mean many) drawing criticism for the film artistic flourishes and vague nuances. How so? Well, for lack of a better of a term, the movie is steeped in that whole “arthouse” aspects and nuances, which can be distracting throughout the entire film. This includes a lot of cinematography work, including elongated scenes, odd camera angles, and perplexing filmmaking techniques, that are heavily utilized to capture this style of cinematic storytelling. That’s not to say that Lowery’s direction isn’t solid nor is cinematographer by Palermo for creating such a visual medieval world, but the movie spends a lot of time of trying to establish its unique arthouse aesthetics that it becomes obstruction of sorts; finding The Green Knight more interested visual appearance (staging and execution) rather than the story / narrative it wants to tell. As I said, the film is released under the A24 studio, which is quite known for their homage / perception of loving the arthouse style of feature films, so I kind of expected this. That being said, it is a little distracting and could’ve been slightly reduced in those nuanced flourishes.
Coinciding with that knowledge of the feature being a A24 release, The Green Knight is definitely a strange (almost bizarre) experience. While I did mention how I liked how the movie was different from what mainstream Hollywood would’ve done with this story, there is no denying the fact that Lowery’s interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is truly perplexing by offering some vague explanations and confusing ambiguity. There is a plethora of odd scenarios that Gawain faces along his journey to the Green Chapel, with Lowery staging plenty of “WTF” moments that are bit of a headscratchers in my opinion. Because of this, the movie itself is not very straightforward with what it wants to convey (both what its in front of the camera and in its script shaping), which causes a lot of problematic elements. Discerning the feature’s story (side quests and sometimes the main quest of Gawain) is definitely perplexing, which will mostly cause a lot of moviegoers to lose interest in the movie altogether. Thus, one might have to fully prepare for the movie that there about to watch; mentally walking into the movie with an adult fairytale story vague notions of what lies in store for the film’s journey. Certain things aren’t fully explained, character disappears / reappear without much notice, and some scenarios are just plain downright odd. A result of this vague / non-straightforward is that The Green Knight feels quite long and is considered to be a “slow burner”; slowly unfolding Gawain’s narrative in a very non-rushed manner. And, with a film runtime of 130 minutes (two hours and ten minutes), the movie definitely feels like; slowly moving with a couple of pacing issues. Again, I kind of figured that would be the case (with the film being released under the A24 banner), so I wasn’t too upset by it. However, it feels like the movie could’ve been more refined in how it was ultimately shaped. Overall, Lowery’s direction for The Green Knight is an ambitious one, but its vague nuances of storytelling setup will leave many out there divided on the feature’s likeability.
Also, as a minor sidenote of criticism, I felt that the film’s final scene ended rather abruptly was bit of odd choice. The ending for the film itself is great and I loved how Lowery decided presenting the feature’s climatic moments within this frame. That being said, where The Green Knight ultimately ends feels ambiguous and unclear. Maybe that’s part of Lowery’s grand masterplan for this feature, but it just felt so sudden and abrupt that it left me a tad disappointment. Who knows…. that might be just me.
The cast in The Green Knight is surprisingly really good and, while the film isn’t quite crystal clear in a few of its character motivations and develop (due to the feature’s ambiguity), what’s presented works and the performances of its various actors and actresses selected for this project helps elevate those missteps. Leading the charge in the movie is actor Dev Patel, who plays the film’s central protagonist role of Sir Gawain. Patel, who is known for his roles in Lion, Chappie, and Slumdog Millionaire, has certainly made a new for himself; establishing his acting career and appearing in a wide variety of projects, with most being juicy character roles for him to immersive himself into. The Green Knight is no exception to the notion; finding Patel prime and ready to tackle such a character like Gawain wholeheartedly and his performance definitely shows that. How Gawain is written in the movie actually plays a part in Patel’s performance, with the character being first introduced as quiet, hesitant, and naïve, but grows throughout his journey; realizing the trials that lay before him are test in his endurance as a man that the duty (as a knight) he must overcome. Patel reflects these thematical emotions beautifully in the movie and result is something captivating. Like the movie itself, Patel plays the role of Gawain with more subtlety and nuance, never overacting nor fully completely bloated with long-winded character dialogue moments; letting his physical performance and facial expressions speak for themselves. In the end, I think that Patel gives such a powerful and great nuanced performance as Gawain and is probably gives the most memorable performance in the entire movie.
Behind Patel’s Gawain, actress Alicia Vikander and actor Joel Edgerton play solid character roles in more supporting roles in the movie. Vikander, who is known for her roles in Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Danish Girl, actually plays two characters roles as Essel, a young, common woman who his romantic in love with Gawain, and character simply known as “the Lady”, a character who offers temptations for the young knight in his journey. Vikander plays both roles with ease, showcasing her acting talents in playing dual characters and how she and Patel interact with each other is great. Likewise, Edgerton, who is known for his roles in Warrior, The Gift, and The Great Gatsby, is equally effective as simply known as “the Lord”, a kind lord who takes in Gawain to rest up before completing his journey to the Green Chapel. Edgerton plays the character with charm and easiness; a sort of gleaming “twinkle” in his eyes as if he knows more than what he initially saying. Since his character (as well as Vikander’s second character Lady, who is married to the Lord) are presented towards the end of the film, there both presented as a “final test” for Gawain to overcome / learned from, and I think that Lowery does a good job in evoking that notion.
Of course, I could not go without mentioning the character of which this film’s namesake comes from…. the Green Knight. I personally thought he was such an amazingly cool character. Yes, the feature doesn’t delve into the character’s background and / or legend, but that’s a good thing as Lowery keeps the character shrouded in mystery and a formidable being that Gawain has to face when he reaches his journey’s end. Surprisingly, Lowery made the decision to not use much CGI visual effect shots for the Green Knight, which means he’s mostly brought to life by ways and means practical effects such as heavy costume apparel and prosthetics. The result is something that makes for a more striking and haunting character that looms large and formidable whenever he’s on-screen. Heck, even the actor who plays, Ralph Ineson, who is known for his roles in The Witch, Ready Player One, and Game of Thrones, is fantastic in the role and creates such a unique voice for the Green Knight that definitely compliments his visual appearance. In the end, I thought that Lowery did a great job in bringing this enigmatic being to life in a way that’s beautiful and intimidating.
The rest of the supporting players, including actor Sean Harris (Mission Impossible: Fallout and Prometheus) as King Arthur, actress Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones and Prometheus) as Queen Guinevere, actor Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk and Eternals) as the young scavenger boy, and actress Erin Kellyman (Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) as Winfred, and actress Sarita Choudhury (Homeland and Lady in the Water) as Gawain’s mother / Arthur’s stepsister Morgan Le Fey, are secondary characters in the movie. Naturally, all of these acting talents play their respective well and the performances are solid, but all of these characters are more subtle, with not such a heavy emphasis on them. Again, this goes back what I said earlier where Lowery doesn’t super focus on other Arthurian characters and are merely in The Green Knight as sort of “window dressing”. Still, regardless of their screen time, these players are still vital to the narrative (to a degree) in play their parts in Gawain’s tale.
One year hence…. are the words echoed from the mysterious knight as Sir Gawain soon embarks upon a quest that will test his courage and honor in the movie The Green Knight. Director David Lowery latest film is a visual stunning and ambitious film adaptation of the classic Arthurian tale; delivering a unique endeavor that is steeped in heroic quest nuances, but rich in its gritty and shaded dark underlining that permeates the entire film. While the film does struggle within its artistic approach as a arthouse endeavor and wallowing in a confusing ambiguity aesthetics, the movie still manages to be quite riveting in its own right, thanks to Lowery’s direction / vision for the feature, its powerful themes, a solid presentation, practical effects, and a great cast, especially Patel’s performance. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, there are some truly bizarre stuff that happens in the movie (stuff that I can’t fully wrap my head around just yet), but I do appreciate Lowery’s vision for this tale and Patel’s performance is fantastic. However, I definitely can see why some viewers will be “turned off” by this ambitious projects. That being said, my recommendation for this movie is an “highly recommended” as well as an “iffy choice” as the movie itself isn’t bad or mediocre, but because it will have polarizing effect on moviegoers everywhere, with some liking it (like myself) and others confused by it. It will definitely have viewers divided on what they watched and is probably one of the most decisive (and probably debated) features of the 2021 film releases. And maybe that’s good thing! Again, if you liked movies Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water, you’ll definitely find this film to your liking. In conclusion, The Green Knight is a visionary take on the classic Arthurian legend; one that delves into powerful themes and solid performances that’s wrapped in a stunning cinematic tale that will leave an impression on its viewers. Whether or not that impression is good or bad is left up to the viewer’s artistic taste of the cinematic variety.
Also, as a personal side note, The Green Knight is my 600th movie review since I’ve started blogging. This is truly a huge and celebratory milestone for me! I wanted give a special thank you to all my readers, followers, and fellow bloggers for reading my movie reviews and giving me this platform to share (with you guys) my views on cinematic tales.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: July 30th, 2021
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2021
The Green Knight is 130 minutes long and is rated R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity