Real characters emerge from myth

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 10, 2006 | Publication: The Vancouver Province (British Columbia) | Author: Glen Schaefer
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Beowulf & Grendel's people have both hero and villain in them

Warning: 14A: Gory violence, sexually suggestive scenes, coarse language.103 minutes

Grade: B

"You want a beer?" -- Hrothgar

"Oo-o-hh, yeah." -- Beowulf

Seems an entirely appropriate way to greet the warrior who has sailed great distances to rid you of the troll that plagues your kingdom. In Beowulf and Grendel, we're in a time of myth and fantasy, where giant trolls can terrorize the wilderness and sea monsters grab at sailors.

But the movie, adapted from the anonymous epic Anglo-Saxon poem by screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins for Toronto-based director Sturla Gunnarsson, renders that world from the perspective of real characters, who deal with severed heads, the gruelling northern landscape and badly insulated wooden halls in the grousing, matter-of-fact way we might handle urban traffic.

The fearsome troll Grendel (Icelandic actor Ingvar Sigurdsson) is terrorizing the Danish King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgard) by killing off his soldiers and collecting their skulls in his cave. Hrothgar's friend, the legendary warrior Beowulf (Gerard Butler), sails with his warriors from across the sea, pledging to help the king kill the troll.

The British-Canadian-Icelandic co-production was filmed on Iceland's rugged, volcano-scarred coastline. The story's players are scattered sparsely on that huge landscape, their few buildings precarious on the bare rocks. It's an evocative way to suggest a society of puny humans at the mercy of much bigger, god-like forces.

Butler gives Beowulf a shaggy, grimy world-weariness, a hero with the depth not to be blinded by his own advance PR as the virtuous champion of good. Alongside his determination to help the king, Beowulf grapples with doubts about the rightness of his quest. The movie recalls the tone of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, with scenes of Beowulf soft-pedalling the fireside retellings of his exploits. The hero will get bigger, the movie suggests, when he's not there to deflate his own legend.

Skarsgard's Hrothgar, half-mad from despair, guilt and drink, shambles the rugged rocks in a nightshirt, lanky blond hair flying in loose braids at his shoulders.

A wandering ragged monk tries to bring the king to Christianity. "Jesus," the king muses. "He any good with trolls?"

A more contemporary perspective comes from a hermit (Sarah Polley) living apart from her fellow Danes and ostracized as a witch. "He has a name," she tells Beowulf of the troll. Like the troll, the hermit is different.

Beowulf comes to realize that the troll has his own code -- his blood feud is with the Danes and he won't willingly harm the foreign warriors from across the sea. The troll taunts Beowulf and his warriors from atop a cliff, bouncing pebbles off their armour when they scream for him to come down and fight.

There will be a gory victory, a severed arm will be nailed as a trophy to the post in the king's hall. But it's no epic triumph -- the movie takes the poem's heroes and villains, adding flesh, blood, beer and other vital fluids to create a harsh world of people who have both hero and villain in them.

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