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The Green Knight (2021) – Review: An Impressive Medieval Fantasy That Showcases the Skills of Dev Patel

August 20, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B+ – The Green Knight is a visually beautiful spectacle that features a standout performance from Dev Patel

Directed, written, edited and produced by David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon), The Green Knight puts a stylish spin on the 14th century poem Gaiwan and the Green Knight. The A24 produced film is a sight to behold, and does a fine job expanding upon the epic poem by both adhering to the story, and changing up the ending to keep things fresh and speculative. Most importantly, the cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo (A Ghost Story, You’re Next), and production design by Jade Healy (Pete’s Dragon, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Innkeepers) do an excellent job of creating a visually fresh world that feels dangerous, mystical and beautiful. It’s wild to think that The Green Knight only had a $15 million budget because it looks sumptuous and expensively dangerous. The special effects crew certainly had their hands full as almost every location is loaded with fog/smoke/mist, which adds an eerie feel to the Irish landscapes that feel like characters in their own right. Adding to the beauty of the film are the visual effects by WETA which were supervised by Kev Cahill (Gretel & Hansel – another great looking movie), and give Gaiwan’s world an otherworldly feel full of reds, blues, and neat matte paintings. 

The movie focuses on the exploits of Gaiwan (Dev Patel), the son of the enchantress Morgana/Mother (Sarita Choudhury), and the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who bites off more than he can chew when he accepts the challenge of The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), who barges into Arthur’s castle during a Christmas celebration looking to play a game. The Green Knight tells Gaiwan that if he can land a blow on him, Gaiwan will receive the knight’s axe, and one year later, Gaiwan will have to go on a quest to find The Green Knight, and accept the same blow in return. Feeling cocky, and needing to prove himself because he hasn’t accomplished any great feats, Gaiwan chops off The Green Knight’s head, and immediately regrets it when the immortal knight gets up, picks up his head, and rides away laughing. 

A year flies by quickly, and Gaiwan is forced to travel alone to the Green Chapel, where presumably his head will be chopped off by The Green Knight. It would be a shame to wreck what happens next on the journey, just know that he runs across Joel Edgerton, Alicia Vikander (who has two roles in the movie), Barry Keoghan, and Erin Kellyman during his quest. What’s neat about The Green Knight is how it avoids sword fighting mayhem for more thoughtful interactions that involve headless people, gross scavengers, skeletons in cages (Willow reference!) and a fox who may or may not be friendly. 

Even if you’ve read the epic poem, Lowery made sure to add changes (by working out some mother issues), to the location, and the finale, which keeps things fresh and have already led to the creation of many “ending explained” articles. Also, the $15 million budget didn’t allow Lowery to tell a full-blown medieval fantasy, which forced him and his crew to get creative. For instance, costume designer Malgosia Turzanska (You Were Never Really Here, Hell or High Water) couldn’t design period appropriate clothing, so she and Lowery got creative and found articles of clothing that were close enough, while still looking awesome. 

The one thing that kept The Green Knight from receiving an A, is the focus on style over substance. It’s easy to understand all the stylish choices, but they prevent the audience from ever getting to know the characters. Sure, you have a basic understanding of who they are, but there is never a real connection.

Final Thoughts The Green Knight is a wonderfully constructed film that’s worth a watch. Let’s hope Dev Patel is remembered come awards time.

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