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"Beowulf & Grendel": Long poem (zzzz) becomes horror film (eeek)

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: June 16, 2006 | Publication: Seattle Times | Author: Tom Keogh
Source: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/movies/2003064074_beowulf16.html

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In "Beowulf & Grendel," warriors from Sweden go to Denmark to aid a kingdom being savaged by a powerful troll.

"Who does he think he is, some [bleeping] troll Caesar, laying claim to everything his eyes fix upon?"

Nowhere in the 3,182 lines of the 1,000-plus-years-old Old English manuscript known as "Beowulf" is there a line quite like the one above.

Spat, in English, by the fine Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, who plays the Danish king Hrothgar in "Beowulf & Grendel" — a startling horror-noir version of the epic poem — that expletive-accented bit of sarcasm could just as easily come from a gangster picture or an episode of "Deadwood."
Movie review 3 stars

"Beowulf & Grendel," with Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgård, Sarah Polley, Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, from a screenplay by Andrew Rai Berzins, adapted from the anonymous poem "Beowulf." 103 minutes. Not rated; plentiful violence and swearing. Varsity.

But here it is in an unlikely, yet somewhat compelling, revisionist take on the saga about a powerful troll, Grendel (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), who wreaks havoc with Hrothgar's warriors in what is now southern Denmark. The king's problems draw the attention of Beowulf (Gerard Butler), the heroic Geat and grateful son of a father who was once helped by Hrothgar.

Beowulf and his posse of thanes sail from Sweden through haunting, icy straits to the dissolute monarch. (Skarsgård's performance as a leader stumbling, drunk and disappointed, in the face of an overwhelming enemy is both moving and fun.) Soon, like a private investigator who suspects he's being played by an old friend and manipulated by a pretty face (in the latter case, a witch portrayed by Sarah Polley), this modern-language, thematically updated Beowulf gets the feeling he hasn't been told the whole story behind Grendel. Indeed he's right.

Screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins and director Sturla Gunnarsson layer in a subplot that explains how things got so bad (and underscores the original text's comparisons between Grendel and the Old Testament's Cain). They tinker with famous scenes (such as a crucial battle), suggesting a gap between the "facts" and the legend of Beowulf.

But they're not about to demystify everything. The creative team also works in provocative details (chalk-white arms that reach from the sea to pull men from boats), reminding us we're in the realm of heroic myth, at a time when some of Europe was still undiscovered country. This movie won't be to everyone's taste, but it will certainly bedevil some dreams.

 


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