Movie Review: Beowulf and Grendel

When you see a spate of movie reviews here, you can generally assume that the wife & kids are out of town and I’m bored out of my skull. 

So it was that Netflix recommended Beowulf and Grendel, and I streamed it rather than getting some much needed sleep.  Gerard Butler stars as Beowulf, recast in this modification of the classic story as more of a villain, or at least an accessory to villainy.  It struck me in this film how much Butler looks like Russell Crowe.  King Hrothgar becomes the main villain, played effectively by Stellan Skarsgard.  

This is a weird film, but at times the weirdness is very compelling.  At other times, it’s simply weird.  This movie blends the traditional story with an up-to-date retelling that includes a sympathetic back story for Grendel.  This effectively makes Grendel more of the hero and Beowulf more of a villain.  Grendel is the character that acts consistently according to a particular code of moral behavior.  He seeks vengeance on those he believes to have wronged him, and isn’t interested in messing with anyone else, even if they are working on behalf of the ones who have wronged him. 

The other key characters in the film acts morally inconsistently.  Hrothgar kills Grendel’s father – apparently on a whim, because “he crossed our path, he stole a fish”.  But Hrothgar decides to spare the young Grendel’s life.  Now Hrothgar wants to ignore the connection between his actions years in the past and the vengeance being wreaked on he and his people now.  Beowulf seeks to protect and honor Hrothgar, a relative.  Yet he comes to realize that in doing so, he is defending someone who has done wrong.  While he realizes this at some level, it doesn’t deter him from seeking to destroy Grendel.   

The movie is gritty and rough, from profanity to convincing costumes and sets.  The film does a good job of portraying what a period Danish mead hall and village might have felt like, while at the same time updating the language.  The net result is a story that is probably similar to how a story would have been told in Beowulf’s time – full of valor and struggle, but also humor, frustration, and deception. 

While swapping the roles of protagonist and antagonist somewhat, the film also takes a stab at depicting the displacement of the traditional pantheon of gods for a newcomer, Jesus Christ.  There is a slightly mad friar (Eddie Marsan)who is converting the Danes to Christianity with promises of God’s protection from the seemingly unstoppable Grendel.  While in part I wonder why the friar needs to be portrayed as mad, I’m sure that wandering the wild fringes of ‘civilization’ would lend itself towards a certain form of madness!

This Friar eventually ends up baptizing Hrothgar and most of his people, as they seek protection from Grendel’s wrath.  Their conversion is mostly expediency, and not without considerable doubt, at least on Hrothgar’s part.  Beowulf and his men remain steadfast in their traditional beliefs.  They appear somewhat justified in this when the friar’s own god chooses not to protect him from death, despite an earlier protection. 

In a very post-modern retelling of this story, the hero’s cause is not so clear cut.  Nobody can claim here to be completely innocent.  Evil is only questionably so, and the gods themselves bear some weight of responsibility for the climate of moral uncertainty.  it’s an intriguing movie.  If you’re a hardcore literary student, you’ll lament the changes that have been made to the story.  If you’re a hardcore sword & sorcery movie buff, you’ll lament the film’s extremely slow pacing.  The battle scenes are few & realistically choreographed – meaning they’re not exactly pretty or fluid to watch.  The profanity is a glaring anachronism that is as distracting as it is unnecessary. 

One Response to “Movie Review: Beowulf and Grendel”

  1. Doronin Says:

    Good minimalistic design. I like it))) My eyes is rest!

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