As far as King Arthur films go, “The Green Knight” has a lot more in common with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” than most newer, high-energy takes, such as Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”
Running time: 125 minutes. Rated R (violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity.) In theaters.
That’s not to say there are shrubberies, coconuts and Tim Curry, but there is almost no action in this movie. No long, swashbuckling sword fights. No fast-paced chases on horseback. The score is medieval — think lutes and harps — not modern. The journey of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), one of the Knights of the Round Table, is a quest in the most pastoral sense.
And damn is director David Lowery’s forrest-filled movie beautiful to look at.
This telling of the tale sees the young Gawain desperate to become one of King Arthur’s brave soldiers. In a bold move, although we meet Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Morgan le Fay, their names are never uttered. This is the Gawain Show.
During a Christmas feast, a fearsome warrior on horseback called the Green Knight, who looks like the not-so-Jolly Green Giant, stomps in and challenges any man to a little game. If his opponent can strike him with their sword, they will meet again in a year where he will return the favor.
Gawain, wanting to be seen as brave and honorable by the king, accepts the invitation and chops off his head. A year later, he journeys to the Green Chapel to accept his fate.
It’s a simple story that could easily be told in 20 minutes. So, Lowery fleshes it out, not with monologues or layered backstory, but with breathtaking imagery.
Fog sweeping across a corpse-strewn battlefield, giants marching through mountains, the severed head of a girl becoming a fleshless skull, a sinister blindfolded woman — they all lodge themselves in your mind.
The film seizes Lowery’s best skills as a director: his eye for innocence and nature (“Pete’s Dragon”) and how he uses slowness to deepen a story (“The Old Man and the Gun”). That said, “The Green Knight” is a bit long for what it is, but at least it’s time spent in the company of the excellent Dev Patel.
The 31-year-old actor has been segueing, quite seamlessly and brilliantly, into classical roles. His vulnerable, determined, nervous Sir Gawain comes on the hooves of his ebullient Dickensian hero in “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” which was also a joy to watch.
Patel is an actor who can do just about anything. I’m shocked Marvel hasn’t come banging down his door.