The Green Knight Review

Simplicity is the crucial key for The Green Knight. Aside from the eponymous knight and the man whose honour and respect he tests, no other name matters. Intentional or not, David Lowery has gunned down simplicity before, but mixed it up ostentatious predilection for artsy nonsense. A Ghost Story aside, The Green Knight benefits extraordinarily from the text it is based on. Notes of valour and chivalry, the early days of knighthood provide a pivotal backdrop for Dev Patel as he stretches his acting abilities to the limit. Bringing life to Gawain is no small feat, and the unknowability of the original author gives him a broad range of opportunities to apply his own delicate touches to the role and its meaning. 

That would have been possible had it not been for Lowery. His life-affirming desire to desecrate anything that doesn’t feature Robert Redford is a stunning display of artistic ambiguity. The Green Knight is a beautiful film to look at. But so was A Ghost Story, however in a far more limited capacity. Tonally, The Green Knight steers itself down an intensity and preamble that relies on an independent, charming style. Never veering away from looking truly beautiful, Lowery has crafted a film that benefits not just from its iconographic adaptations of the medieval era, but of where Lowery wishes to take them. He blurs it with the fantastical nature inherent to the story of Sir Gawain, but there is little more to it than that. A tad simple at times, too, and without the heavy-lifting of dialogue and meaning, all audiences are watching is a man stumble from A to B in the interest of progression of nothing. These moments should highlight the depth of the character, but Lowery isn’t up to that task.  

Some of it adapts the medieval tones rather nicely, but there are the inevitable, decaying remnants of the Game of Thrones effect still lingering. An over-sexualisation not just of background characters but leading men is the core of Lowery’s narrative. Lowery believes knights and their wives would dance, drink and screw, not because there’s nothing else to do, but because that is the inherent value passed on through the past decade of filmmaking. Gone is the prose and beauty of The Chivalric Romance, and the anonymously written stories are lost to stand-out colours clashing against the snowy grey tide Lowery wishes to present. A desperate attempt from Patel at least sees a grand leading performance, and with Sean Harris and Alicia Vikander waiting in the supporting wings, it is hard, if not impossible, to mess The Green Knight up almost entirely. 

A beautiful film, but one that cannot capture the real beauty, that of its meaning. Dithering prose makes for a film that focuses on its visual compatibility with a misguided complacency. Hayes and Patel may be amicable draws to surround with lavish visuals, but when there is little in the way of contextual prose or the good grace to adapt this Arthurian legend with a hint of understanding for the original text, then the battle is lost. Lowery tries to hide his weak analysis of The Green Knight behind visual prosthetics and exceptional costume design, but visuals only carry a film so far. Some of the finest looking films have the good grace to engage the viewer with a story of deceit or adventure. The Green Knight does not.  

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