It’s like if Conan decided to not talk. At all.
During 1000 AD, held prisoner by a Norse chieftain, a fearless mute warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) , aided by a boy slave, kills his captors making him somewhat of a free man, or thing, or whatever the hell you want to call him. He then falls in with a group of Vikings seeking a holy-land which begets a journey into the heart of darkness. The heart of darkness that most people don’t want to find themselves in, no matter how ruthless or dangerous they may be, which is exactly what this dude is, 10x
After seeing both of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s flicks so far, I realized that this guy isn’t always style, all of the time. Sure, he’s shown to be that way with Drive, Bronson, and by the way the reviews are turning out to be, Only God Forgives as well, but something tells me that the guy can do damage when he tones it all down, even if just a little bit. He does here, but it’s still pretty much the same shite, just with weirder happenings than ever before. And I do mean “weirder”.
Tales of vikings, barbarians, and warriors in the Ancient times isn’t the most intriguing pieces of work to my mind, but Winding Refn does something with that story that makes it so. Instead of making this an in-your-face, action thriller filled with cracked skulls, bones flying everywhere, and grisly killings, the film actually pays more attention to creating a certain type of atmosphere that actually allows for a story to breathe in between all of these moments of silence. There’s actually many moments of silence where it’s just long, sweeping shots of these characters doing nothing but sitting there, looking mad, looking dirty, and just thinking some very messed up stuff (or at least that’s what I assumed), but it actually helps the film in setting itself up for a very big conclusion as this story treads along, slowly but surely. I have to give a lot of credit to Winding Refn for taking his own time with this flick and allowing there to be a tense atmosphere, as it worked and made me think twice about these types of conventions, we come to find in these stories.
But the film really stands out with the certain essence of beauty that it has to itself, underneath all of the shocking violence. The mountains of grass-land in Scotland make this a perfect setting for a story like this as almost shot, has a type of Malicky-feel to it where I was looking at these characters, and looking behind them at the big, big world that they live in. That idea adds a lot more to this flick as well, because the whole basis behind this story is that these people are constantly trapped in a world that they can’t get out of, a world surrounded by God, and most of all, a world surrounded by violence and death. It’s a beautiful film to just gaze at, even if it is just the background you’re checking our. However, you can’t get past the fact that it’s also quite ugly in it’s own right, and if you don’t believe me, just watch the first 10 minutes of this flick and come back and tell me so.
This film isn’t a total bore-fest, even though I may make it seem though, because even with all of the long moments of deafening-silence, I still felt the need to gag at a couple of scenes due to the incredible amounts of gory violence that is shown here. The first 20 minutes aren’t “action-packed” per se, but they do feature some terribly disgusting violence that puts you into this setting that is utterly remorseful and gruesome, almost to the point of where you feel like nobody is going to leave this flick alive and with all of their bodily-organs intact. There was one moment that had me cough a bit, but it didn’t feel forced or exaggerated. It feel needed for the story itself and even though there wasn’t a butt-load of that in this flick, it still shocked me every time it came on.
Even though Winding Refn’s direction may be pretty inspired, in his own odd way, the film still suffers from a story that honestly made no damn sense, which would have probably still been the case, had I been under the influence of some crazy drugs. The whole story may have you think that this is going to be your typical story about a killer barbarian, that befriends a little kid, only to lead him on a long trip across the world, and they eventually find a peace between one another. That not only sounds too simple for this director, but also a bit too cutesy-bootsie. Something that Winding Refn does not enjoy but I sort of wish he did, because that would have made this story a whole lot better to actually understand.
For the first 30 minutes or so, the film starts off by making sense but then it starts to get into all of this weird, philosophical-talk that seems to come out nowhere and rather than just letting it settle in every once and awhile, it gets used over, over, and over again almost to the point of where I wanted this guy to just kill anybody who chanted the word “God” or “My Lord” next. Maybe Winding Refn was trying to go for something higher (literally) when it came to this movie’s deeper meaning, but it just felt like he was trying too hard to take us out of the fact that this is a story about a killer barbarian who is looking for an escape goat out of the badlands. That’s all there is to it and to try and add anything else more, just makes it seem to desperate to be something more. Something that isn’t all about pretty backgrounds, brutal violence, and a slow-pace. Oh wait…
But if there is anything that may come close to saving this movie, it’s the lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen as the worst-named, but bad-ass barbarian ever, One-Eye. Not only is Mads one tough son-of-a-bitch throughout the whole film because of what he does to other people, but also because the guy never once even utters a word, but still comes off as the most intimidating mother ‘effer in all of Ancient Scotland. Seriously, just the look he gives everybody with that one eye of his is more than enough to have me shit my bed for weeks and he uses that to his advantage here because you can always tell what he’s thinking by the look in his eye, but you are almost never too sure. This character may sound more complex than Winding Refn ever gives him actual credit for, but Mads plays him up perfectly, giving him plenty of instances to show you that you shouldn’t fuck with him and that he also may not be such a terrible barbarian deep down inside. And if this guy has any feelings whatsoever, they don’t really come out too much, unless he’s chopping you up into teeny, tiny, little pieces. Basically, in a nutshell, this guy is freakin’ scary just by standing there and making your insides melt.
Consensus: The story gets very lost in the muck of whatever it was trying to get at, but Valhalla Rising is brought back to the promised land with an inspired, but very moody direction from Winding Refn, and a superb performance from Mads Mikkelsen that just goes to show you that you can still be cool, still be bad-ass, and still scare the shit out of everybody around you, without even uttering a word.
6.5 / 10 = Rental!!