Monday, December 13, 2010

Valhalla Rising (2009) Dir Nicholas Winding Refn

I'm gonna say it and you heard it here first folks!  Vikings are the new pirates.

However Valhalla Rising is not going to be a high water mark on the resurgence of Vikings in pop culture.  Refn's film is too bleak, too dark (literally, the film is very dark and washed out), too slow, and thematically/philosophically/intellectually meandering to really capture mass appeal.  My movie buddy said she felt sick while watching it (not because of violence - she's a gorehound).  Valhalla Rising is an art film and if it weren't for the brilliant action, cinematography (never has Scotland looked colder or wetter than in this movie), pacing (of the first half of the movie), and Mads Mikkelsen's silent protagonist the movie would have been a total snooze-fest.

Mads Mikkelsen and the level of psychotic violence his character can dish out really kept me watching.  In some ways he (and the film) reminded me of some of the chambara films I have seen.  Mikkelsen plays "One-Eye" a country-less, nameless, silent force of violent nature.  In the first half of the movie he is either caged or kept in chains or at the end of a rope, he barely moves or even registers the slightest emotion on his face in his eye.  But when he is pitted against other fighters he's terrifying.  He crushes his opponents - in one case he smashes the brains out of a fallen foe with a rock.  As the film progresses though and One-Eye gains his freedom, Mikkelsen allows some subtle expressions play across his face and it's a true testament to his skill as an actor at he can convey emotion and thought with only one eye (without any need for melodrama or tears or going moon eyed).

If you're a fan of Herzog (especially Aguirre, Wrath of God -1972) or Skandinavian and Japanese slow-paced actioners you might want to check it out.  I'd be interested in your thoughts and responses to Valhalla Rising.

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