Short Review: A hero of classic literature is remade as postmodern man. In other words, he can’t stand up in a fight, wets his pants every time he’s asked to make a judgment call and couldn't find his own backside in a fog when it comes to moral issues.
I’ll start with the good points and then, like the film, descend into my own petty agenda until I arrive at an unsatisfying, muttering end.
This is an absolutely beautiful looking film. Director Sturla Gunnarsson knows how to take advantage of his surroundings. Combined with the real feel of the actors and their costumes, this film has a visual reality that is stunning and undeniable.
In addition to the wonderful look of the film, there are some very good performances as well. Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson gives a daring performance as the monstrous troll Grendel. He is, in effect, primal man and Sigurðsson acts like a complete fool in order to get his performance right. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You run around in front of a couple dozen strangers in your underwear grunting and sniffing and see how you cope. Sigurðsson deserves credit for his honest and notable work. The remainder of the cast, including Stellan Skarsgård as King Hrothgar and Gerald Butler as Beowulf, does good work (with one exception – I’ll get to her later.)
And now on to the downside…
This film is adapted from the epic poem which has been plaguing undergrad students for generations. The important word in the last sentence is “adapted”. What the word “adapted” is another way of saying the film acknowledges its roots and then spins off into postmodern whimpering.
Beowulf tells the story of a great hero who arrives on the shores of King Hrothgar’s land and does battle with the evil demon Grendel. Beowulf vanquishes Grendal and Grendal’s swamp hag mother. Following that Beowulf returns home to rule his lands only to be forced into a one on one with a dragon. There’s plenty of blood and impossibly difficult language.
Beowulf and Grendel tells the story of an justifiably angry troll who kills King Hrothgar’s men out of revenge. Beowulf, now a Billy Ray Cyrus clone dressed in chain mail, can’t come to grips with the moral struggle of his age. Is it acceptable to kill evil or is it better to co-exist with it? Beowulf offers some hollow efforts to get Grendel to leave the land but the pesky troll just won’t go. There’s also a subplot involving a witch named Selma who distracts Beowulf from his purpose for being in the story in the first place. King Hrothgar is a guilt-ridden sop who cries in his beer over his moral anguish. He offers moral relativism as a cure for our ills. Essentially, this film lays out the exact problems with modern day Europe. Moral ambivalence has swamped the initiative not only to kill evil but to even recognize it when it is knocking down the front door. It’s connection with modern Europe’s moral sickness isn’t a condemnation however, it’s a symptom of the disease.
The piece refuses Beowulf the straight heroic path, but prefers him to languish in the ditch wallowing in navel gazing relativism. This is a terrible shame since the film could have been great. As the film starts it retains the source material’s feel and story. As the production expounds upon its true effort, it rolls into a morass of nonsense. I will give the piece credit however, it is possible to overlook this downward slide and enjoy the much of the production. This means one isn’t allowed to think independently however. In other words it is suitable for those currently enrolled in an undergraduate programs.
To get through the film you will have to swallow a multitude of accents and a prominently poor performance by Sarah Polley as Selma. She is dreadful and she’s dressed up like Pat Benatar in her “Love is A Battlefield” getup. If you can struggle through all of the negatives, the positives of the film may intrigue you. Just make certain to turn off your brain and kick over your moral compass and you’ll make out fine.
Stellan Skarsgård films
Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist (2005)
Other Critic's Reviews:
Film School Rejects