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‘The Green Knight’ Review: A whole lotta movie

David Lowery’s ‘The Green Knight’ pits Dev Patel against an immortal warrior who issues a simple challenge that leads to the journey of a lifetime.

Dev Patel in 'The Green Knight.'
(Image: © A24)

Our Verdict

‘The Green Knight’ oozes Arthurian style on a more intimate, visually hypnotic level akin to A24’s slow-and-stunning signatures, and while it undoubtedly feels its length, does showcase David Lowery’s keen directorial eye with the right spotlight.

For

  • ⚔️ A four-course visual meal.
  • ⚔️ Dev Patel has no problem carrying scenes.
  • ⚔️ Lives its period aesthetic.
  • ⚔️ When the blend of themes is balanced, it shines.

Against

  • ⚔️ Suffers from over indulgence.
  • ⚔️ At over two hours, it’s a long-hauler.
  • ⚔️ Parabolic and obtuse on purpose.
  • ⚔️ Too much movie at once.

If The Green Knight is a banquet, David Lowery gorges his audience. What starts as a medieval Sleepy Hollow manifestation had this genre fan giddier than a kid in King Arther’s candy shop—but there’s just so, so much movie. Lowery sports a keen visual eye as the camera floats through scenes with a canvassing steadiness and serves Tolkeinian landscapes from rolling misty hilltops to muddy corpse-ridden battlegrounds. The Green Knight is proficient at showing over telling—Lowery lets imagery replace the necessity for dialogue—it’s all just so overwhelming, whimsically sumptuous, and laboriously sprawling as the two-hour-plus running time becomes our ultimate test of might.

Dev Patel stars as Gawain, nephew to a compassionate king (Sean Harris) whose Christmas offering is the seat next to royalty. In walks a barky, from-the-Earth warrior known as the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) with a wager. Whoever accepts his challenge has to strike the Ent-like stranger to achieve victory, and if so, the champion must venture to the Green Knight's chapel one year later where he’s allowed to repay whatever violence the crowd beholds. Gawain sees this as his chance to impress those feasting around the king’s round table, and he’s handed a shimmering sword (presumably Excalibur). “It’s just a game,” the king whispers—so Gawain lops off the Green Knight’s head. A hero rejoices, but when the year passes, what fate awaits Gawain?

The Green Knight draws a combative stance against hubris and questions the context of bravery, using the often intoxicated Gawain at a pivotal crossroads. Do violence and conquest make a valiant knight, or cleverness and contemplation? The Green Knight challenges Gawain while at a maturation crossroads—Gawain knows whatever blow he delivers will be reciprocated a year later. Yet, he swiftly beheads his rival because, well, foolish are the overconfident? It’s an odder setup to an unfolding fable that becomes Gawain’s quest to seek the Green Knight for his own presumed decapitation. In comes Lowery’s metaphors about absolvement through sacrifice and fate’s unflinching grasp.

Read: The Best A24 Movies

Lowery never disguises Gawain’s period in history, post-Arthur but still inclusive of a haggard wizard (Merlin), the aforementioned round table, and angelic representation of Excalibur. Paganism and Christianity clash as the Green Knight’s mossy, uprooted physique brings forth an executioner from Mother Earth. There’s even an explicit usage of the Triple Goddess (Mother, Maiden, Crone) literary influence as Gawain’s magic-practicing mother (Sarita Choudhury) oversees his epic(ish) quest—which becomes incredibly icky in a moment of tempting release. Talking foxes with raspy voices, seductress maidens (Alicia Vikander), and hallucinogenic mushrooms layer heaps of symbolism upon mounds of superb folkloric storytelling, but it’s a bit belly-busting in portion sizes. Worse off, all these elements of incest and blaspheme intersect in fits of directionless stumbling that can increase weariness within waning viewers.

The film’s sectioned-out standalone moments are spectacular, as Patel balances the trepidation and valiance within his hopes-to-be-humbled adventurer. Erin Kellyman provokes humble chuckles as fair Winfred, who requests an act of kindness when Gawain accidentally lays in her “empty” bed—dive into a steamy spring and locate her skull, for she’s no longer human. Barry Keoghan plays a mouthy scavenger whose conniving jester antics are a needed contrast of jovial criminality. Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander exude beguilement as a huntsman Lord and manipulative Lady who take in Gawain for their own parlor ruses—mere sidequests alongside Gawain’s central narrative, but always the more quizzically engaging draw.

I’m both impressed and somewhat frustrated by The Green Knight solely on its ability to sear these Lord Of The Rings skill-shots into my brain while also testing ounces upon gallons of patience. You’ll feel every second of the film’s duration, which becomes a problem as Gawain’s parabolic facing of the Green Knight’s axe blade intertwines in tangles. All the Arthurian references, witchcraft undertones, and olden-centuries slacker gallantry play against one another while cinematic chapters feel compounded by text cues on the screen that reflect authentic era handwriting (and can be a bit difficult to decipher). Most critics will describe The Green Knight as “a lot of movie,” but the beauty in that descriptor lies in its varied usage, whether a gleaming positive or damning negative. I sit somewhere between—tickled, humored, and left a wee tad miffed but still utterly in acknowledgment of Lowery’s eye for fantastical castle-crashing transportation.

David Lowery takes viewers on a wondrous quest of feudalism, fairy tales, and bodily fluids—this is an A24 movie, after all. It’s a path traveled for too long, in my opinion, as cinematography lingers like every blade of grass deserves its due recognition in the spotlight, better summarized by its anecdotal life lessons as Dev Patel faces the unknowns of his actions. There’s a chainmail charm and slippery anonymity to it all, and while the latter becomes a brushy thicket that’s harder to cut through the more it overgrows, I still offer The Green Knight my sword as a token of support.