Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #88: Valhalla Rising (2009)
I've been meaning to write a review for Valhalla Rising for quite some time. I've name-dropped it in other reviews, promising that I'd one day say a bit more about it. That day is upon you.
If you read any of the reviews I posted about The Pusher Trilogy, you probably noticed that I have nothing but high praise for Danish writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. I haven't seen anything he's touched that I haven't liked. His images are stirring and organic, and he knows how to pull interesting performances out of his actors. He seems to be able to work special magic when he's working with Valhalla Rising lead Mads Mikkelson, a guy who could very easily turn into a misused Hollywood action chump (like in the awful Clash of the Titans remake). But he's chosen some very interesting, and in the case of Valhalla, daring films to be part of. In Valhalla Rising he doesn't say a single word.
Mads is 'One Eye', a completely silent one-eyed Viking slave/prize-fighter who eventually finds himself on a ship filled with Scotsman bound for the Crusades. There's really not too much more to say about the plot.
I'd wager that anyone passing by the DVD case would be immediately mislead. It's image of a grim Viking warrior standing alone with an axe in hand might make you expect a film filled with spectacle-driven violence. It isn't. There's in fact very little violence, but what violence there is some of the grittiest, ugliest violence I've seen on a screen. Mads' screen presence is great, and though silent (not to be confused with mute), manages to present you with a startling enigma you constantly struggle to decipher in terms of emotion and motive. This movie is minimalist in its strategy in almost every way and works essentially as a thought-provoking, poetic, and captivating existential mood piece. And it's about a fucking Viking. Who knew.
So: My pick for best movie of the year (it was released in North America only recently). Might not be your cup of tea, but if anything I said tickled your fancy, watch it.