David Mitchell-Baker’s review published on Letterboxd:
To get the obvious out of the way first: of course The Northman is an absolutely incredible feat of craftsmanship. Director Robert Eggers firmly entrenches one in the visceral sights, sounds, feelings and mythos of the Viking era, not a prop, set or costume out of place, and hardly a scene goes by without a jaw dropping, staggering element of technical mastery on display. Be it Jarin Blaschke's cinematography, Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough's score, or the aggressively dark aura imbued by Eggers, The Northman is a rousing filmic accomplishment.
So, what about the rest of the film?
The Northman boasts an absolutely stellar cast; Alexander Skarsgård is a man possessed in a beastly performance, Nicole Kidman is utterly demented, Anya Taylor Joy is commanding in every second, Claes Bang's tightrope walk between mania and stoic is bewildering, and thank God someone introduced Eggers to Willem Dafoe. Ethan Hawke also hams it to the high heavens despite his brief screen time, and, of course, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson had to show up somewhere. Top to bottom, there's not really a performance out of place, so coupled with Eggers craft and ambition, tonally and aesthetically, all the players bring their A game.
It's just a shame that The Northman feels a little too bloated, aimless and oddly paced to truly excel into the pantheon of greatness that is clearly, agonisingly just out of its grip. It's not that the film runs too long or anything, it's more that it rushes through a lot of story within about a half hour stretch where it really could've done with taking some more time, and not relying on an exposition heavy screenplay to just fill in the blanks with some clunky lines here and there. About 40 minutes in, it seems like the movie is reaching its final act, and yet it takes another half hour to truly hit the strides and beats it should be hitting in these moments, meaning that what should be a rousing revenge tale for Amleth suddenly has the air taken out of it. It's a shame that the film hits such a stumble, a few more revisions of the screenplay, and perhaps a tighter - or maybe more indulgent - final edit of the film could've mustered up something truly great.
There is a lot to love in The Northman and a lot that I greatly admire and praise Eggers for attempting and, largely, pulling off. It's not so much that I dislike aspects of it, more that they left me perplexed, restless and deflated. Still, he remains one of the most ambitious and unique directors working today, and for a man only three films into his career, it's a treat to be able to witness such an artist working firmly in territory that he finds fascinating and invigorating.