David Lowery creates yet another visceral, cerebral, and spellbinding work in The Green Knight; a hero’s tale that takes its time and, with patience, delivers one of the best films of the year.
Lowery always surprises with his works, whether it is a haunting existential piece like A Ghost Story (2017) or a live-action re-imagination of Pete’s Dragon (2016). He reunites with A24 to deliver an adaptation of the Chivalric Romance in one of the most anticipated films of 2021, The Green Knight. Not only was it worth the full year’s wait– it is far better than we may have imagined, cementing Lowery as one of the best directors working today.
On Christmas day, young Gawain (Dev Patel) must embark on a quest that may cost him his life to confront the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a giant who appeared in the king’s hall at Camelot. Risking his head due to a deal made with said knight, he sets off on a journey in search of worth and honor in the eyes of his family and the court.
David Lowery is an expert at shaping the atmosphere. From the greens, reds, and yellows that are embellished in the scenery to the smothering sensation of dread and loneliness. There is also lust, torment, agony, and dread lurking around the moss-covered grounds, each appearing during Gawain’s different encounters. In my opinion, if Lowery didn’t make A Ghost Story beforehand, he wouldn’t be able to take on The Green Knight in this form because it relies on the deep feeling of existing and what happens after you are gone.
Lowery develops a sensation of worry and despair for what is about to come for Gawain as he searches for what he most desires and questions what will happen when he faces the Green Knight on Christmas day. There is also beauty and fiery passion behind the darkest moments thanks to the gorgeous Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography and Daniel Hart’s haunting score. It pierces through your skin and you feel every single moment of it; the loud stomps of giants, the howling of the fox, the galloping horses… everything. A person shouldn’t come into this movie expecting something like John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) or Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005).
This focuses on sensations and ambiance rather than fantasy spectacle. It takes its time to settle down and appreciate every detail, as it is showered with religious and folklore symbolism. You will get the most out of it the more patient you are due to its very slow pace; it has a 130-minute runtime that feels like 3-hours. Finally, the glue that makes it all work is Dev Patel’s performance, which is the best of his career. Because of it, you believe that he will succeed, even though his fate is clear.
Though close, The Green Knight isn’t a modern masterpiece nor is it Lowery’s best work. It is an amazing work that remains in your head for days and days as you dissect every single detail. It may not play for average movie-goers and patience is a virtue, but I encourage everyone to give it a chance. It is not your typical fantasy adventure, however, it is as cinematic as the biggest blockbuster in the world. Lowery directs the hell out of it and keeps you in deep tension as you expect what is expected– the final blow. It will make you hold your head high and your swords even higher. A brilliant film and a showcase of true and prominent talent.