More Ups for Beowulf & Grendel
By Ryan Parsons | Image property of Arclight Films
A few days ago we posted a review sent in for Beowulf
& Grendel by 'Cait' who was able to catch the screening at the
Calgary International Film Festival. In the review, 'Cait' had nothing but
good things to say about the film and expressed her concerns that it would
have a full international release.
Gerard Butler as Beowulf
Well, after posting the review for Beowulf & Grendel, a bunch
more began to pour in; all of which were positive. Hopefully reviews such
as these will convince studios to get in gear and pick the Canadian epic
up for release in locations such as the states.
Oh yeah, Beowulf & Grendel does star Gerard
Butler, and we know how much you ladies love him. [342914 votes
have been counted in that poll
we closed about a month ago]
Beowulf & Grendel
'Chantal-Lise Mirman' sent this review for Beowulf
& Grendel over and it was the best summary of all the reviews to
land in my inbox.
From Sheepskin to Celluloid
Breath-taking scenery, strong performances and an unexpected message come
together in Sturla Gunnarsson’s Beowulf & Grendel. Forget the dusty,
inaccessible saga that may have been forced upon you in High School or as
a College Freshman in English Lit! New life is breathed into Beowulf,
the oldest text of recorded English, first set to sheepskin in 1000 A.D.
after 500 years of survival through oral tradition. The acclaimed Canadian
director of Rare Birds stays true to the bones of what undoubtedly
started as a campfire story of a battle between Man and Monster without
resorting to CGI or other special effects. Instead, he relies on the talents
of an impressive international cast and an intelligent screenplay against
the backdrop of a stunningly primal Icelandic landscape upon which no human
had set foot in 800 years. You won’t need Cliffs Notes to understand that
this examination of who and what defines “Other-ness” and how it is treated.
The knee-jerk fear factor response is as prevalent today as it was in the
early Viking slice-of-life portrayed.
Beowulf & Grendel owes as much to John Gardner’s Grendel as
it does to the Beowulf epic. The roles of Hero and Monster do not
so much embody intrinsic Good and Evil as reflect qualities attributed to
their assigned archetypes. How and why we assign those roles is at the heart
of the first-ever serious adaptation of the anonymous poem. The movie systematically
leads us through a labyrinth of History, Cultures, the psycho-social reaction
to Outsiders and the unfortunate results of those actions to the inescapable
conclusion that we are not so different from one another. The ensuing Logic
would then dictate that War is merely a lazy solution to a problem better
addressed by examining our own psyches.
Beowulf is portrayed with astonishing depth by the Scottish actor, Gerard
Butler, who is accumulating an impressive array of credits from Attila
(the highest-rated U.S. mini-series) to Phantom of the Opera (the
lavish 2005 Musical) to Dear Frankie (the award-winning independent
Scottish film), to name a few. As always, he throws himself whole-heartedly,
thoughtfully, and more important, believably, into the role of Hero, which
in less-capable hands might be one-dimensional. Even the screenwriter, Andrew
Berzins, was both surprised and impressed by the levels to which Mr. Butler
plumbed the character “all in his facial expressions.” Rising above his
mastery of brooding good looks through tangled locks of hair, he manages
to have us look through his eyes, rather than at his eyes - no mean feat
for someone who is undeniably easy on the eyes! Beowulf emerges as the antithesis
of the later Danish Prince, Hamlet, who is so introspective that he is paralyzed
into inaction. In contrast, Beowulf willingly accepts the yoke of the traditional
Hero and initially and immediately acts without thinking. He recognizes
his Destiny in this life and beyond, stating, “I’ll go where I’m sent!”
He does not, however, stop there. Delving into the reasons behind his mission,
he becomes a relentless, if uneasy, historical detective, needing to unearth
the cause of the troll/monster Grendel’s savagery. The Hero’s journey, punctuated
by pre-destined acts of violence, is one in which we participate and evolve
along with Beowulf, with the assistance of the witch, Selma (appropriately
ambiguously played by the popular Canadian actress, Sarah Polley). Although
she and Beowulf do pair off at one point, theirs is not really a romantic
connection. She serves as a sort of conduit between Beowulf and Grendel,
leveling the playing field between them.
Grendel is splendidly brought to heartbreaking life by Iceland’s biggest Star, Ingvar Sigurdsson. Interestingly, his 4-year-old son makes a very credible acting debut as the young Grendel, orphaned in no uncertain terms at the start of the movie and laying the foundation for the carnage to come. Harking more to Gardner’s Grendel than the unremittingly bloodthirsty troll of the original poem, Mr. Sigurdsson manages to express both the innocence and tragedy of Grendel with gusto, exploring his un-human characteristics without judgment. It is a tribute to his talent that rather than being horrified by a scene in which we see Grendel bowling with victims’ severed heads, we identify with the spirit of pure Joy breaking through a monster’s lonely existence.
Stellan Skarsgard in Beowulf & Grendel
Providing a context for the Hero/Monster mythos is a superb cast of supporting characters. Stellan Skarsgard is the alcoholic Danish king Hrothgar, not only unwilling to accept responsibility for the scourge of Grendel, but not even wanting to consider “why an f***ing troll does what an f***ing troll does.” Eddie Marsden plays the foaming-at-the-mouth crazed Irish Catholic priest, Brendan, heralding the advent of Christianity and the desire of a people to unburden themselves of any and all accountability for their actions. And Ronan Vibert embodies the equivalent of modern day mass media as the Bard, Thorkel, through whom the saga is transformed (over Beowulf’s objections) into a revisionist history which does not bear close examination. As Martin Delaney notes as the young warrior, Thorfinn, what we are left with are “tales of sh*t.”
The old Beowulf is not gone. The tone of the original oral tradition is
maintained by Berzins’ strict adherence to Anglo-Saxon and Norse root words
and an ongoing thread of bawdy humor against a relentless musical score
rife with tribal drums. The comic relief serves, as in Shakespeare’s tragedies,
to lighten and make palatable the raw impact of some harsh realities revealed.
But a new Beowulf &: Grendel rises from the ashes. This blood and
guts epic, with an undeniable spiritual undercurrent, balances swordplay
with word play, and the audience is left to draw their own conclusions in
the bloody aftermath. The tag line, “Heads will roll!” refers not only to
the blood-soaked battle scenes, but to the thought processes set in motion
that will leave you re-evaluating concepts of and motives behind Love, Loyalty,
and War long after you leave the theater.
Beowulf & Grendel premiered to sold-out audiences at the Toronto
International Film Festival on 9/14/05 and is currently in negotiations
for U.S. distribution.
As I said after the last review, those of us stuck
in the states are going to have to wait a bit while Beowulf & Grendel
waits for a distribution company to pick it up for domestic distrubution.
Thanks to everybody who sent in their take on Beowulf & Grendel
and 'Chantal-Lise Mirman' for letting us post this full review. Hopefully
this will be another sign to show the support behind the small Canadian
Again: If you do receive any word of a domestic
release in the US for Beowulf & Grendel, be sure to let me know.
Stay tuned for updates.
Sources: Image property of Arclight Films
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