Beowulf meets girl; girl meets troll. Eeew.
Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: June 30, 2006 | Publication: San Francisco Chronicle | Author: Mick LaSalle
Beowulf & Grendel: Drama. Starring Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard, Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson and Sarah Polley. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson. (Not rated. 102 minutes. At the Opera Plaza.)
It's a danger that looms for every young actress. Choose the wrong role, and the next thing you know, you're having sex with Grendel. Such is the fate of Sarah Polley in the Icelandic-Canadian collaboration "Beowulf & Grendel," which takes the Old English poem and adapts it for an age of moral ambiguity.
This time Grendel isn't a monster, exactly. He's just a big, inarticulate guy who kills people and speaks in strange howls, reminiscent of Crazy Guggenheim on the old Jackie Gleason variety show. He's not the nicest guy in the world, but he has some legitimate grievances, as well as a point of view.
Director Sturla Gunnarsson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins remove the supernatural element from the legend and instead tell a story of Beowulf (Gerard Butler), a great warrior, who, out of loyalty to the drunken Danish king (Stellan Skarsgard), entangles his men in a private conflict between the Danes and Grendel (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), a gigantic troll (here, trolls are just very big people). It's intended as a cautionary tale, in a sense, about needless military intervention, as well as a commentary on the danger of making sweeping moral assumptions in foreign policy -- especially when dealing with trolls. The problem is, when you blur the moral lines of the Beowulf saga, you're left with nothing but a bunch of drunks in animal skins, scratching themselves.
Imagine the worst "Deadwood" episode ever, and you'll get an idea of the general tone of "Beowulf & Grendel," which is full of anachronistic cursing, tortured syntax, dark humor and lots of hairy, homely, filthy-looking people. The filmmakers get their point across in about 30 minutes, leaving 70 more for severed heads and period charm. There's no charm. Looking at this Dark Ages world, it's daunting to realize that this period was many hundreds of years after the splendors of Rome and a thousand years after Athens. When civilization collapses, it can get pretty nasty for a long, long time. Or perhaps it just took the Nordic countries a bit longer to get with the program and start thinking in terms of drama and literature, architecture and haircuts. It's a wonder Hitler kept a straight face with that nonsense.
As a young witch, Polley makes no adjustment for the period, neither in delivery nor manner, but rather plays the witch as though she were a sardonic graduate student -- you know, a strong modern woman. Maybe that's how they approached her with the role: "No, Sarah, you got her all wrong. She's not some Dark Ages trollop. What, you think she's just some skank who'd roll over for any clown in bearskin underwear? This witch is a strong modern woman!"
Polley is a good actress, but she's miscast as the sort of gal who'd have carnal knowledge of both Grendel and Beowulf. I mean that in the nicest way.
-- Advisory: Graphic violence, sexual situations, substance abuse (mead).