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A Sumptuous Visual Treat
David Lowery's slow-burn medieval epic is sure to be one to divide audiences, and it already has been. Even the A24 faithful can't seem to agree on the film as a whole. Critics, on the other hand, have been predominantly favorable of the mythical adaptation. Beyond the reception, most can at least agree that the film is a cinematic delight to look at, if nothing else. David Lowery's The Green Knight is based on a poem from the 1300's about a man of royalty who perhaps does not always associate with his class, but one thing is for certain, he desires to one day achieve honor by becoming a knight. He seizes the opportunity the day a mysterious creature pays his castle a visit and challenges the most courageous of warriors to a game. Accepting the challenge, our protagonist, Gawain must participate in the game and then one year hence must fulfill his end of the bargain with the titular Green Knight. The film, I must warn, is certainly not going to be for everyone. However, if you're willing to give this a chance, and you don't mind a slow-burn, then you're in for a treat. Now, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this one.
Quite possibly the most effective aspect of the film is its beautiful cinematography. Each frame is visually stunning and could honestly be a painting of its own. The cinematographer, Andrew Droz Palermo, uses a slew of methods to draw us in and leave us in awe with each and every shot. The way the camera moves at times is so entrancing and leaves us to wonder how it was even achieved. There are plenty of nature shots of sprawling vistas, capturing bleak castles and towns, enchanting us through forests, exploring breathtaking mountain views, and pushing in on haunting close-ups. The cinematography is so stunning, in fact, it can (and should) garner an Oscar nomination. It is easily the most well-shot film of the year so far and deserves all the attention it should receive. As I alluded to, even if this film isn't your cup of tea, we can all agree that the film's cinematography is next-level.
The adapted screenplay of the film is the next strongest aspect which is more than worthy of noting. As stated, the film is based on a 14-century poem titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Although I'm unfamiliar with the source material, you certainly don't have to be in order to enjoy the film. Some film enthusiasts have noted that reading the poem would indeed improve your viewing experience, but I wouldn't say it's mandatory. Starting with the structure, the screenplay is so meticulous and methodical in its approach. As I mentioned before, the film is completely unafraid to take its time at the risk of losing viewers due to pacing issues. I, on the other hand, was entranced the entire time and was totally enthralled with the plot and character development throughout. Our protagonist goes on a wild, whacky, and tumultuous journey which changes him in profound ways. His resolve, honor, and courage are tested in signifiicant ways through pivotal events which double as character moments. The dialogue of the film is also deliberate and unique. It's sparse - and while dialogue that's few and far between can be frustrating to some, Lowery makes the most of each and every line. The screenplay also brilliantly brings everything together with a beguiling and wholly satisfying sequence coupled with a stunner of an ending. And let's not forget, one of the best closing lines of dialogue of all time (in my humble opinion).
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the craft behind David Lowery's exquisite filmmaking. It's clear that Lowery is a slow and methodical director who has truly honed his craft with his fourth major feature film. I'm of the opinion that he is now at the height of his powers with The Green Knight, and in a recent letter to his fans (the A24 faithful), he has essentially stated that this is his passion project. He had always wanted to direct a film of this time period and within the medieval world of knights and magical realism. Back to the craft, Lowery had also stated that this film went through somewhat of a re-cut in the editing process during pandemic times. So, it's possible the cut that we received is quite different from the one we were supposed to see at SXSW before shit went down. In any case, the cut we receive is, yes, slow and methodical in its approach, but I would venture to say it's meticulous and calculated. Every frame is important to plot, character, and deeper symbolism. Lowery opts for the narrative to take its time in order to build tension, suspense, and garner intrigue. Each plot device and what he chooses to hold in the frame is carefully placed, has intentionality to it, and enchant us. Danger always lurks about in the journey he has crafted, so always pay attention to the background if not the foreground. Lowery also masterfully places parallelism throughout the course of the plot, once again to ensure you're paying attention, because it undoubtedly comes back later in satisfying ways. Although this section was dedicated to Lowery's mastery of his craft, I also am obligated to mention that the acting, and not just the lead acting, across the board is superb all around. The lead and supporting casts all give their absolute best and you hardly notice that it's even acting at all.
When all is said and done, The Green Knight is quite possibly the greatest film adaptation of the poem that one could possibly achieve. I left the theater almost completely unable to put my thoughts into words - quite literally, I was speechless. Once again, the film unabashedly takes its time as far as narrative momentum, but one can enjoy it when you just take it all in and be patient with the pacing. The film is a cinematic treat as far as cinematography and visuals go - any film nerd who geeks out over cinematography can definitely appreciate that, if nothing else. The adapted screenplay is masterful and covers all the bases where character development for fully rounded characters and significant plot points are concerned. David Lowery's craft on display as a director are astonishing and worthy of praise - whether via awards consideration or not. The acting across the board by this stellar ensemble cast is top shelf and must be highlighted. Looking back at the cinematic experience of The Green Knight (yay, in a theater), I look back so fondly that, in fact, it might very well be one of my favorite cinematic experiences of all time. This film is so damn-near perfect in every way, that I have no choice but to give it this rating.
The Green Knight is an A24 film and is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release wherever theaters are safely open.