Review: Hero's journey unfolds in epic fashion in 'The Green Knight'

Dev Patel leads a talented cast in director David Lowery's visionary tale.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Epic storytelling of the oldest school variety, "The Green Knight" is the enchanting, wildly ambitious story that brings to life "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the anonymously written 14th century poem. 

There are several layers to visionary director David Lowery's boffo telling of this tale, and depending on the scholarly credentials of the viewer, entire volumes can be written about its wells of religious symbolism and imagery. But at its heart it's a simple story, laying out a hero's journey on a mythic quest, and can be seen as a spiritual cousin to films as broad in their appeal as "The NeverEnding Story" or "The Princess Bride." 

Dev Patel in "The Green Knight."

With a much artier pedigree, to be sure. Dev Patel stars as Gawain, a hanger-on among the decorated warriors in the King's court, who longs to lay claim to greatness of his own. (He's the King's nephew, which is his only tie to the throne.)

He sees his shot and takes it when on Christmas day, a mysterious Green Knight, a hulking figure carved from wood (picture Groot, all grown up as an elder warrior) enters the kingdom and offers up a challenge: he'll let him take one shot at him, if in a year's time, the shot can be returned. Gawain accepts and slices the Knight's head clean off his shoulders. Well played. The Knight then picks his head up off the floor and walks off, but not before bellowing "one year hence!" and laughing a mighty laugh. Gauntlet thrown. 

The year quickly passes and Gawain must travel to meet his destiny, encountering scoundrels (Barry Keoghan, perfectly skin-crawlingly creepy), giants, nobles and even a friendly fox along the way. Oscar winner Alicia Vikander is outstanding, playing Gawain's lady back home but also appearing in a dual role as the wife of a Lord he meets during his travels; her speech about the meaning of the color green is one of the year's most transfixing moments.

Lowery dives all the way in and viewers are rewarded with a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the soul. Early in his quest, Gawain explains he is striving for greatness, and is asked, "why greatness? Why is goodness not enough?" "The Green Knight" doesn't settle for just good, and it makes all the difference in the world. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'The Green Knight'

GRADE: A-

Rated R: for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity

Running time: 130 minutes

In theaters