The Green Knight

The Green Knight ★★★★

8
Amazon Prime Video

David Lowery’s directorial career to date has shown a refreshing willingness to work across various styles and genres, balancing mainstream entertainment with arthouse experimentation. His oeuvre has included Disney live-action remakes (Pete’s Dragon), wispy, Malick-ian romantic dramas (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and fleet-footed crime capers (Robert Redford tribute The Old Man & the Gun). But The Green Knight, his latest, is arguably closest in style to his hypnotic, bracingly artsy and somewhat divisive 2017 fantasy tale A Ghost Story- a film which saw Casey Affleck entombed under a heavy bedsheet for the majority of the running time, and which also featured Rooney Mara grief-eating a pie in real time. Like A Ghost Story, The Green Knight showcases a director willing to take risks, and even where those risks don’t fully pay off I would much rather see a filmmaker shoot for the moon and come up slightly short than play it safe. The good news is that, for the most part, The Green Knight absolutely works- a meditative, unpredictable, slow-burn Arthurian fable with lashings of visual panache, a lurid, high contrast colour scheme, emphasis on practical special effects (including fantastic make-up and prosthetics akin to The Lord of the Rings and Pan’s Labyrinth), a score which alternates between folksy traditionalism and synthy modernity, and a compelling lead performance from the superb Dev Patel. Even in its lengthy, episodic middle section, which has similarities structurally to Fellowship of the Ring, Lowery still manages to pull off surprises: from a stop-over at the house of a ghost with unfinished business, to a hallucogenic trip amongst giants, to an incredible single shot which briefly takes the audience hundreds of years into the future and then back again without a single cut. And yet despite the artistic presentation, the film's themes and message, bound up within Gawain's character arc, cut through with the clarity of a sharply-honed scalpel: that courage, decency and honour are attributes that we should all strive for regardless of the cost, and that a short life lived well and with no regrets is better than a long life of bitterness, cowardice and anger. The film is also an absorbing examination about the nature of masculinity, as well as the overwhelming power and beauty of nature. The Green Knight is probably not for everyone, however those who can get onto its weird, hallucinatory wavelength will find much to enjoy. For me, there aren't many films I immediately want to dive straight back into after watching but this is absolutely one of them.

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