THE GREEN KNIGHT
I never cease to be amazed at the gap between professional reviewers and audiences. A certain degree of separation is to be expected with almost all films, but why do some films have such vastly different experiences for these two groups? The Green Knight is receiving wild, rhapsodic, almost worshipful praise from many of my brethren, but audiences in large find it near-detestable.
In this case, I'm with the audiences.
Divided into nine chapters (The Christmas Game, A Too Quick Year, The Journey Out, A Kindness, A Meeting with St. Winifred, An Interlude, An Exchange of Winnings, A Beheading at the Green Chapel and The Voyage Home), The Green Knight tells of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), nephew to the King (Sean Harris). Gawain is too busy whoring with his great love Essel (Alicia Vikander) to care much about Court, until a tree-like creature known as The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) comes on Christmas Day. He challenges all at the Round Table to strike his head, with the champion winning his large green ax. Only Gawain takes this challenge, and he strikes him down easily as the Green Knight bends and allows the blow to be struck.
There is a catch, however, in this game: whomever strikes the Green Knight down must go to the Green Chapel where the Green Knight resides and receive a similar blow. Easy for the Green Knight to make such a challenge as he picks his decapitated head up and leaves.
Now as the next Christmas comes closer and closer, Gawain must ride out to meet his fate. Along the way, he is waylaid by petty criminals, encounters St. Winifred (Erin Kellyman), a young woman who herself lost her head and has Gawain retrieve it from a pool, and then finally encounters The Lord (Joel Edgerton) and his daughter The Lady (Vikander in a dual role), who tempt him with pleasures of the flesh and mind before he is finally able to go to the Green Chapel. Here, he seems to have escaped his fate but was it all a dream?
I think the first warning sign that The Green Knight will be an acquired taste comes from the fact that its writer/director, David Lowery, is described as "visionary". When you are described as "visionary director" XYZ, it's notice that you ain't gonna see a nice popcorn film. While I found the last Lowery film I saw, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, barely tolerable due to the performances, I cannot be as kind to The Green Knight, a film that mistakes pomposity for contemplative.
In the two-hour plus running time things move so slowly that it soon becomes a chore for audiences to care about anyone, especially Gawain. I find that Ain't Them Bodies Saints had a similar manner: a slow pace that had everyone speak in these hushed tones that was almost maddening. Its pace, its hushed speaking, its lack of action all conspire to make The Green Knight a slog to sit through.
I was reminded of all things Hotel California than of Arthurian legends in that when it comes to the castle where Gawain stays, he can check out any time he likes, but he can never leave. Everything in The Green Knight is filled with such dreadful seriousness that it makes the tales of chivalry, romance, magic and courage look dull and lifeless.
One sees this throughout the performances. Dev Patel is a good actor but here he is so blank and dull, and up to a certain point stupid (how easily he was hoodwinked by the bandits). Whether encountering a beautiful woman asking for her head or a beautiful woman having him desire her into a tryst or even in the extended fantasy sequence, I don't think Patel changed his expression much.
That pretty much goes for everyone here, though to be fair each was directed to be as still and "serious" and "somber" as the next. My only takeaway from the other performances is that Joel Edgerton has a fondness for medieval times, as I was reminded of his turn in The King, which is not a good thing.
To be fair there are good things in The Green Knight. Andrew Droz Palermo's cinematography is quite arresting even if at times a bit opaque for my tastes. Daniel Hart's score is also quite evocative and mystical. However, those two positive elements are not enough to make me watch The Green Knight again, let alone worship it as so many others have. Obviously, they saw many things I did not.
The Green Knight is a film that will end up being admired by cinema intelligentsia but not embraced or loved by audiences.