The Green Knight movie review: Dev Patel is near-perfect in David Lowery's trailblazing new film, one of 2021's best
The Green Knight movie review: David Lowery's new fantasy epic, starring Dev Patel, is among the best films of the year.
Fastidious, fearless, and kind of feral — none of these words can be used to describe Sir Gawain, the cowardly protagonist of director David Lowery’s ‘filmed adaptation of the Chivalric Romance,’ The Green Knight. But even if you were to spend a fortnight scouring the far reaches of a mystical forest, you wouldn’t be able to find more perfect adjectives to describe this movie.
Starring Dev Patel in perhaps the finest performance of his career — a continuation of his brooding sweater model phase — The Green Knight is an epic fantasy that is virtually incapable of pulling punches. A feminist retelling of a pagan fable, a deconstruction of masculinity, and a revisionist take on the hero’s journey, it’s among the best films of the year, and yet another monumental addition to Lowery’s already astonishing filmography.
Watch The Green Knight trailer here:
On Christmas Day, Gawain’s mother casts a spell that summons the Green Knight — a mythical creature, part-man, part-tree — to Camelot. He lumbers into King Arthur’s court on horseback, and lays down a challenge before the Knights of the Round Table — if any of them is able to land a blow on him, they will win his green axe, but exactly a year later, on Christmas Day, they must suffer a blow of the same severity in return. More out of peer pressure than anything else, Gawain slips out of the shadows, and in a fit of misplaced cockiness, accepts the Green Knight’s challenge.
He swings his sword, and in one fell swoop, beheads the giant. Just when he’s celebrating his victory, the Green Knight creaks back to life, picks up his severed head, and rides off into the distance, cackling to himself. Gawain is stunned. He spends the next year worrying about upholding his end of the bargain, even as the world begins to perceive him almost as a Robert Ford-like figure, a man whose only claim to fame is an act of violence against another. His legend travels far and wide, entertaining children and adults alike, but Gawain sits in silence, whiling away his time with booze and women as he awaits his destiny.
At the end of the year, he visits King Arthur. Must he journey across the land to the Green Chapel, where the Green Knight lives, and suffer the fatal blow? Yes, Arthur tells him wearily, he must. And so, armed with a spectacular robe, the axe he won in battle, and a magical green girdle given to him by his mother, who says that no harm will befall him as long as he wears it, Gawain embarks on his epic quest.
The Green Knight might sound like a garden variety Arthurian tale on paper — frankly, even I was unprepared for just how weird it was willing to get — but ‘conventional’ is hardly the word that comes to mind while describing a movie that throws giants, a talking fox, and a thieving Barry Keoghan at you at regular intervals.
Privileged but inherently decent; willing to do good but very, very entitled, Gawain, as played by Patel, is a straight-up millennial man — if he were alive now, I’d imagine he’d drink Blue Tokai with his breakfast and wear Birkenstocks on brunch dates. But really, he is a depressed millennial man. The journey he agrees to go on is a suicide mission; he knows this. But only a small part of him resists. His entire life, it seems, has been spent trying to match the standards of his respectable family, and routinely failing to live up to them. That is his eternal struggle.
Gawain is in near-constant conflict with what he is expected to do — as a man, as a knight, as a relative of King Arthur’s — and what he is capable of doing, which is not very much. How Lowery and Patel are able to generate empathy for someone with possibly zero redeeming qualities is a question that can be answered only after multiple viewings. Gawain is terrible to his lover, he shrugs when his assistance is required, and most hilariously, his response to being gifted a prize boar to take back home is one of befuddlement. “What shall I do with it?” he asks. Even the talking fox I mentioned earlier, in one scene towards the end, basically channels Ramadhir Singh from Gangs and Wasseypur and tells Gawain, and I quote, “Tumse na ho payega.”
Just because he looks like a hero — by the way, casting a brown man to play someone who is generally considered to be a white character is such a neat act of subversion — doesn’t mean he actually is one. And that is the secret to what makes him so relatable, especially to crowds that swear by the indie outfit A24 and its sensational output. Every movie should aspire to be this ambitious.
The Green Knight
Director - David Lowery
Cast - Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Sarita Choudhury, Joel Edgerton
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar