With over a year of hype behind the film due to its Covid-related release delay and the undefeated power of A24’s marketing machine, it wouldn’t have been a big surprise for “The Green Knight” to disappoint audiences. Towering expectations are often a film’s worst enemy, as the film’s evocative trailer, posters and social media teasers have all been crafted to make it feel timely, unique and something you, the viewer, must see, regardless of whether stories set before there were cars make you break out in hives. But if anyone was going to find a way to make this epic Arthurian tale not just palatable to new audiences but positively mesmerizing, it would be writer/director David Lowery, an imaginative filmmaker as nimble stylistically as he is refreshingly thoughtful.
His adaptation, starring Dev Patel in a career-best turn as Sir Gawain, achieves something very few post-millennial period pieces or fantasy excursions are capable of accomplishing. “The Green Knight” feels urgent and lively without having to betray its presentation of a world so far from our own. Watching the film, it’s difficult not to think about the way future “Game of Thrones” showrunner David Benioff tried to imbue an anachronistic flavor to his script for Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film “Troy,” or the deconstructionist bent of Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman’s work on Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf.” But where so many modern adaptations of historical fiction or old mythology feel, even at their best, like very expensive cosplay from recognizable actors playing make believe, “The Green Knight,” with its excellent production design and inventive craft, truly breathes and writhes on screen like a storybook coming to life — not just in front of our eyes, but in the depths of our imagination.
Upon first viewing its pacing may prove more deliberate than the A24 branding might have otherwise suggested, but despite very much being its own beast, it, like the studios’ other beloved throwbacks “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” is a rich and lived-in tapestry that is sure to reward repeat watches and thorough rumination.