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Movie Review: The Green Knight

This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . THE GREEN KNIGHT! (September 10, 2021)


The Green Knight (2021) - IMDbAs a student of the liberal arts and a passionate English major, THE GREEN KNIGHT, which I recently saw at Red River, caught my eye immediately. Based on the Medieval story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the modern film adaptation takes a classic work that many lovers of the medieval era and the humanities know and love but that others may not. While it is not as ingrained in lore as Arthur and the Knights at the Round Table, Sir Gawain has its own beauty to it that this new take on the story does not fail to ignore.

The story of King Arthur’s nephew Gawain’s epic adventure to confront the Green Knight following an encounter at the castle on Christmas, the film focuses intently on Gawain’s long and arduous journey. As a deep admirer of the anonymously written work, I was looking for a lot in the piece at hand, some of which met my expectations and some which did not.

Starting with the positives, the artistry of THE GREEN KNIGHT is just masterful. Whether it is the director of photography’s mix of lush greens and yellows alongside a dark and hazy look in certain scenes, the gorgeous harmony of the score, or the authentic costuming that also pays homage to the central color of green, there is nothing the film does not get right in the area of aesthetics. I particularly enjoyed the regal look of the court and banquet scenes, something that had a Shakespearean edge to it as well.

Additionally, the audacity to adapt this lesser-known medieval tale to the big screen is something to applaud as well. By no means is it an easy feat nor is it one that was not met with its fair share of challenges. In true fashion of the film’s independent distributor, A24, the classical style of the story meet the visual needs of the 21st century beautifully. That blend of medieval and modern with a quirky twist in parts of the execution work well for advancing the story, especially how they divide it into segments (much as an anthology of that era would).

The casting is also to be commended, not only for the talent but also for the “color blind” nature of it. Dev Patel’s portrayal of the fierce and mighty Gawain is masterful. He embraces the inner turmoil, shows the character’s true strengths, and chews away at the scenery without being “over-the-top.” To elaborate on that last point, there are many parts where he is alone or in small company. As a result, there is little to no dialogue and a mixed amount of action. Instead of hamming it up to the camera in the fashion of Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT (sorry… not a fan of that movie or his performance in it), Patel seizes the opportunity to develop a gigantic character arc through an intensely focused performance. I’ve long admired him, but here, he is the film. Any other performer, and there are many, is very much overshadowed by him despite their own name recognition and talent (e.g. Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton).

The Green Knight' Is One of 2021's Best Movies - The AtlanticYou may be wondering what the cons are in my book considering that I’ve spoken so highly of many other parts of the movie. I have only two. The first is that the film is a bit too long. Cutting it down by about 20 minutes would have held my attention span a bit longer. The second qualm I have goes along with that in the fact that the screenplay is missing the gorgeous prose of the story. 

It is safe to say that film doesn’t always need dialogue or prose to present its story. Some of the best films of the recent past do indeed abandon dialogue. Hitchcock always comes to mind as a clear and strong example, particularly in PSYCHO. Here, however, the lack of prose is hurt by the fact that certain scenes are just too draggy, even as Patel captures your attention and the visuals are gorgeous. I’d rather have the beauty of the prose, additional narration, or less “bareness” to the action personally. 

As a result, the film slips away at times when it could instead maintain a really strong focus and keep the audience engaged. Nonetheless, it is a very strong piece with aesthetics to boot. I am eager to see if its visuals fare well at any point in the next awards cycle. As I said, there is so much to admire and it presents the visual part of film about as well as you can.

It appears there is a lot to look forward to with upcoming movies, including RESPECT (the Aretha Franklin biopic, now out in some other theatres and which I have yet to catch), as well as THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (coming to Red River soon). I look forward to diving into those titles and others in the coming weeks. In the meantime, happy viewing!

Stay tuned for Volume XIX, which will most likely appear on Friday, September 24.


Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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