CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)
Directed by: David Lowery
Screenplay by: David Lowery
Based on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
Produced by: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, etc.
Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
The quest to see The Green Knight (2021) has seemingly taken longer than Gawain’s mythical journey to meet his ultimate fate. Was it worth the wade through COVID determined lockdowns and distribution delays to the cinema to finally watch it on Amazon? Yes and no I would say as the filmmaking on show is of a visually magical standard. Yet, somewhere in the character’s bones is an emotional brittleness. I will expand.
Written and directed by the formidable filmmaker David Lowery, The Green Knight (2021), is based on the rites-of-passage trials of Gawain (Dev Patel), a young subject within the court of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) Camelot. Happy getting drunk and flirting with apparently loose women, one of which is Essel (Alicia Vikander), he is then faced with a challenge from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Meeting the gamble from this stunningly created craggy work of metaphor head on sets in motion a fight for his life on the road to symbolic discovery. Throw in some exquisite montages of ominous religious and magical subtext and Gawain must face his fears, fate and foes on a dangerous quest.
Once Gawain hits the dirt tracks, bloody battlefields and ghostly houses of this cursed land the The Green Knight (2021) really finds narrative impetus. Gawain’s confrontation with the Green Knight at Arthur’s court is certainly thrilling, but Lowery spends too much time creating poetic juxtaposition and magical image systems, which while beautiful, really slow the pace of the story. King Arthur’s kingdom and Sean Harris’ performance is somewhat downbeat and drab as less time is spent establishing Gawain’s characterisation.
Dev Patel is phenomenal in the role. He brings both strength and vulnerability. But what was Gawain? Was he a fool to be taught a lesson? Was he a determined individual desiring to prove himself? Was he out for revenge? Was he doing it for love? Who is he saving? What did he want? I was never sure. Thus, The Green Knight (2021) was in danger of collapsing under its own stunning visual pretension. That is until Barry Keoghan’s effervescent thief came along and raised the stakes and energy of the story. After that Gawain’s drive was one of survival as Lowery’s screenplay gave him a succession of devilish, deadly and seductive obstacles to overcome.
David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, Bong Joon-Ho and dare I say it, Stanley Kubrick, he takes familiar content and filters it through his own inimitable style and vision. His masterpiece thus far is the truly remarkable romance, A Ghost Story (2017), a low-budget indie gem. The bigger-budgeted The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power. But such adventure stories, for my taste and preference, need a hero with a clearer goal. Lowery gives the audience sorcery and existentialism and some nightmarishly beautiful sequences, while overall lacking clarity for Gawain’s personation. I imagine this is actually deliberate to counter genre expectations and make the viewer raise their game and apply meaning. I felt the same about Kubrick’s fatalistic, Barry Lyndon (1975), when I first saw that. Indeed, I have no doubt that on future watches The Green Knight (2021) is likely to be similarly revered as cinematic gold.