A would-be hero accepts the challenge of a dangerous foe known as The Green Knight.
A young, unproven nephew of King Arthur, Gawain (Dev Patel), yearns to prove his valor. His chance arises when the daunting Green Knight arrives at Camelot with a seemingly dangerous challenge: anyone who can land a blow against him will gain the knight’s imposing axe as a reward. Should the challenger live, he must meet the knight at the Green Chapel in one year’s time and receive the same blow in return.
Emboldened by magic and certain that he’s found a loophole, Gawain dispatches the ominous foe by decapitating him. While he was certain that this turn of events would end his promise, Gawain quickly realizes that his plan overlooked one essential element.
The poster for this retelling of a 14th Century poem bestows the honorific of “Acclaimed” upon director David Lowery. I find this every bit as reliable as the dubious “Top Rated” claims that one finds on countless products adorning the shelves of the local dollar store. Lowery’s most “acclaimed” work to date is the interminably tedious film A Ghost Story. I set that aside since I’ve been on my own quest of sorts. I’m a fan of Arthurian legend, and I have searched far and wide these last 40 years for a film with the style and depth of 1981’s epic Excalibur.
As the film’s opening scenes played out, I found myself spellbound by the incredible detail given to its characters and the world that they inhabit. I could nearly smell the death and decay from my theater seat. Everyone and everything looked, sounded and moved just as one might imagine that they would in the dankest of the Dark Ages.
Then, the façade began to crumble. Lowery’s need to imprint his own personal “style” on the film wrenched me, unwillingly, from my dreamy bliss. One scene began with a litany of mismatched fonts displaying Gawain’s name several times from the top of the screen to the bottom. Another was shot entirely upside down. Just tell the story, man!
The rest of the movie proceeded more or less along the same inexplicable path. What started out as one of the most atmospheric films of the year devolved into visual masturbation masquerading as cinematic entertainment. It’s often as incomprehensible as Geoffrey Chaucer was back in grade school. The one time that Hollywood should have reimagined its source material is when it instead embraced it with the grip of a starving hyena on its latest kill.
This is the kind of film that mainstream viewers can point to as clear proof of their decision to ignore film critics now that so many have sung its praises. It is, undoubtedly, a beautiful picture, but films are so much more than just pretty pictures. In my quest to find a follow-up worthy of Excalibur, I remain empty-handed.