Film review: ‘The Green Knight’

By Jacob Baker

Based upon a 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” whose author is still unknown, sees a big-screen adaptation by multi-faceted filmmaker David Lowery in “The Green Knight” released July 30. This adaptation values both arthouse cinema and has the makings of a great dark fantasy tale.

“The Green Knight” stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, played by Sean Harris. Seated at King Arthur’s roundtable of knights on Christmas Day, a mysterious Green Knight, played by Ralph Ineson, invades the Christmas celebration to challenge a willing volunteer to a game. Whoever volunteers must try to strike the Green Knight with their weapon, thus receiving the Green Knight’s axe. In a year’s time, that volunteer must seek out the Green Knight at a green chapel for the Green Knight to reciprocate the blow. Sir Gawain takes the challenge, eager to prove himself, and decapitates the Green Knight only for the Green Knight to ride off laughing as he awaits Sir Gawain to make his journey to the Green Chapel. 

Not only does Lowery direct “The Green Knight,” but he also takes the helm on producing, writing and editing duties on the film. “The Green Knight” is entirely Lowery’s vision, and an uncompromising one at that. Long-developing shots, alluring shot composition and meaningful and layered storytelling all feel at home for Lowery. 

The technical nature of “The Green Knight” not only stands alone among dark fantasy films, it goes above and beyond what a viewer can expect heading into the film. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo works magic alongside Lowery; almost every shot can be dubbed as a perfect shot. A death-ridden battlefield, an abandoned cottage under a grim moonlight, or the vast and foggy forests put the viewer at Sir Gawain’s side as he deals with the uncertainty of a world he hasn’t ventured to before. 

The film’s score by composer Daniel Hart is a massive contributor to crafting this special film. Hart compiles familiar soundtrack ideas from fantasy style films and adds his own haunting and soul-stirring twist that keeps the film atmospheric and peculiar. 

A draw to “The Green Knight” has been Patel’s performance as Sir Gawain. Patel’s acting ability and versatility cannot be understated; Patel is stacking career-defining work with each film he stars in. “The Green Knight” is more about a character study of Sir Gawain rather than his journey. Sir Gawain yearns for respect and the title of a Knight but still acts recklessly and without concern for responsibility. Watching Sir Gawain on this journey, essentially finding who he is and his purpose in life, is executed with such precise detail from Patel. 

Some of the best moments within the film are the scenes where Sir Gawain and King Arthur share the screen discussing life, their newfound relationship with each other and what this journey means for Sir Gawain. Harris’ performance as King Arthur is about delicacy and empathy, making his performance a treat to witness. 

The main problem “The Green Knight” faces is a loaded middle act. Despite some outstanding performances from other actors like Joel Edgerton as The Lord and Alicia Vikander as Essel and the Lady and some spectacular set design and visuals, too many events are shrouded in mystery. Some stops along the journey like Sir Gawain encountering giants just doesn’t feel as interesting as the other plot events. 

Despite some bumps in the middle of the runtime, “The Green Knight” offers everything that a unique dark fantasy tale should have: Oscar-worthy performances, unbelievable cinematography, a remarkable score and a story that will leave the viewer floored and thinking about the film for days after. Lowery has crafted an adaptation so decidedly different from other films within the dark fantasy genre, making “The Green Knight” worth celebrating.