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Beautifully epic

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: July 21, 2006 | Publication: Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario) | Author: Catherine Whitnall
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Most may not be familiar with the epic poem that Beowulf & Grendel is based upon, but it's really not necessary when it comes to this elegantly crafted piece of cinematography.

While the film does get off to a slow start, it serves a purpose.

Character development.

Andrew Rai Berzins has done an incredible job at pulling the characters from the epic poem Beowulf. The script is crisp and wry. He takes very few liberties to explain the evolution, relying instead on the collaboration between the talented actors brought together for the piece. The down side to this is a film which requires the audience to pay attention.

Much is said in a single move of the head, a subtle gesture or a simple look.

This, in fact, is necessary when it comes to Grendel (Ingvar Siggurdson) who is limited to what he can say and do by the fact he was orphaned at a very early age. It is this event in his life which fuels his hatred of the Danes and especially King Hrothgar, played perfectly by Stellan Skarsgard. It is a role this actor has had many opportunities to cull experience from, including King Arthur and, most recently, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

The two men are two important cogs in a very complex wheel.

Hrothgar eloquently self-destructs as he watches his world crumble beneath his feet and in front of his eyes as a result of Grendel's rage. A huge behemoth of a frightful brute - possessing as well the heart and exuberance of a small boy - Grendel speaks to the viewer in ways that are bereft of words, yet understood loud and clear.

In the middle is Beowulf (Gerard Butler).

A man accustomed to the simplistic concept of war being good versus evil, Beowulf is bound by the loyalty to his own land and the protection of lineage. When Hrothgar calls he's a ready and willing assassin.

But when Grendel doesn't react like a typical foe, Beowulf is forced off balance and must level his head before raising his sword. Through Butler's presence and nuance-filled performance, Beowulf becomes both a compelling and heroic character.

Accentuating the story is Selma, Toronto's own Sarah Polley. She's come a long way since Road to Avonlea, maturing into an inspiring actress who commands each soulful look and innocent honesty, further throwing Beowulf off kilter.

While the film slowly reveals the impetus behind Grendel's behaviour - and Selma's true desire to protect this 'troll' - the chemistry between all of the actors begins to bubble to the surface.

Perhaps the greatest facet of the film is the harshness of the landscape chosen to unveil the story. From the craggy rock faces to the lolling frozen land, Iceland is presented in a manner far removed from the commercial echoes of a Bjork single and the tourist-trapping sulfur spring producing dormant volcanoes.

Everyone did their homework. The costumes, properties - even the authentic Icelandic ponies used by the warriors - strip away the layers of the typical warrior epic, leaving behind something that is less battlefield and more historical investigation.

In director Sturla Gunnarsson's hands, Beowulf & Grendel reflects his obvious love both for the story and for Iceland. The result is a moving and beautiful film.


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