VALHALLA RISING is my biggest disappointment of the festival to date. I *LOVE* the movies of Nicholas Windig Refn. The PUSHER trilogy - a tragicomic tale of the underclass, starring Mads Mikkelsen - was superb. Absurd, violent, funny, poignant, all at the same time. And as for NWR's BRONSON, starring Tom Hardy - that's one of the most powerful films I've seen this year: visually and narratively bold choices coupled with a strong central performance.
VALHALLA RISING does, at least, have some of this visual boldness. NWR shoots the movie like a graphic novel along the lines of 300. It's all gory, bloody, tattooed medieval warriors set against monochromatic landscapes. You can easily spend the first half hour of the flick just admiring Mads Mikkelsen's profile and the insanity of the violence. The problem is that this movie has nothing else to offer. Mikkelsen's norse soldier never speaks, never explains his actions and does not develop as a character. He just stands there, hating his Scotch captors, and occasionally flashing back to a hellish vision of murder. The captors don't do much either. They stand around looking grim. They get in a boat to fight the Crusades. We don't see anything but them sitting in the boat, enveloped in fog, and feeling desperate. They land in what turns out to be America and again we cut to some more wandering around in fields looking grim.
I mean, seriously, WTF? If you want to present an epic of heathen man versus nasty Christians, then that's what you've got to do. And if you want a highly stylised, austere character study (like BRONSON) you need to give the audience something to hold on to. Without these things, VALHALLA RISING just plays like a series of moody stills, and that's about as boring as traffic.
VALHALLA RISING played Venice and Toronto 2009. It will be released in Finland on January 29th and in Denmark on March 5th.