By Jason Delgado
Good Arthurian era tales on the big screen in recent times have been as elusive as catching a glimpse of the Lady of the Lake. The last one I truly enjoyed (other than the 2019 kids’ movie The Kid Who Would Be King) was 2001’s A Knight’s Tale, starring the late, great Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany (WandaVision), and a rousing arena rock soundtrack.
The lack of Excalibur-worthy Medieval movie content is truly a shame, because I grew up during a time when those tales captivated my imagination. I saw the R-rated film Excalibur at a young age, which probably isn’t advisable, but I was all about anything with swords and sorcery, along with Disney movies like The Black Cauldron and The Sword in the Stone.
The Green Knight is quite different from every film I mentioned above. The time period may be the same, but It’s a slow, art-house type movie, sans adventure, based on the anonymously written 14th-century poem titled “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Director David Lowery has taken liberties with the poem, such as Gawain not being a knight in the film, where he is instead a drunk with “no tales to speak of” as he tells his uncle, King Arthur.
The story centers on Gawain (played wonderfully by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) trying to rectify his dull, meaningless existence by challenging the supernatural Green Knight to a “game,” for which he has one year to deliver on his side of the bargain.
The Green Knight is skillfully made on the technical side, with its realistic production design of giant castles and tall trees in the woods, but the drab colors (with some exceptions) and long camera shots focusing on a still Patel (or the just the trees), left me with the feeling of being stuck in a video game, or worse yet, in the tortuous Dark Ages.
Maybe my expectations are partly to blame, but after a rousing scene early on with the Green Knight, I thought that I was in store for a rollicking adventure. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. There’s a lot of ambiguity in The Green Knight, and critics seem to be eating it up, along with the artistry, however this view isn’t always shared by audiences. The Rotten Tomatoes critics score is currently at 89% fresh, while the audience score is at 54%.
This movie is a textbook example of art versus entertainment. Do you go to the movies to be entertained, or to appreciate art? Especially after lockdown, and during this pandemic, I want to escape and be entertained. I used to love dark and gritty movies like Requiem for a Dream, but honestly, I don’t know if I can enjoy those on the same level anymore after what we’ve collectively gone through over the past couple of years.
The beginning and ending of the film were highlights for me, along with a captivating speech by Alicia Vikander (who plays two roles in this movie) about nature versus civilization. There’s also an interesting overall theme of trying to find purpose and honor in life, but the slow second act of the movie dulled its impact for me. Great moments are fun, but life and film are mainly about the journey, and sadly, this journey was a quest that did not entertain me.
I give The Green Knight two out of five hot sauce packets. Patel and the rest of the small cast gave it everything they had to make it fire, but the slow pacing and lack of much going on made it mild sauce.