The final trailer for Netflix’s new, completely unhinged, absolutely massive dark fantasy epic The Witcher is – all of those things, times ten. But with Star Wars dominating the news cycle and releasing in theaters on the same day as the first season of The Witcher becomes available, will the series be able to find an audience? I think it’s got a strong chance, but it needs to have a hook that will intrigue viewers who haven’t necessarily read a Witcher novel, played a Witcher video game, or ever heard of The Witcher before in their lives. So far, it’s mostly been directing its marketing toward disillusioned Game Of Thrones fans – you want something a little violent, a little dark, a little edgy? This clearly has all of that.
But the final trailer leans more heavily on appealing to fans of the source material, throwing in a bunch of new concepts we really haven’t seen much of in previous trailers and teasers: concepts that don’t mean a whole lot to me, but sound pretty awesome anyway. The focus here is on the “lion cub of Cintra”, Princess Ciri, whose character appears to be the show’s central plot-point – the people of Nilfgaard want her dead, and Geralt of Rivia has been assigned with finding and protecting her. The powerful sorceress, Yennefer of Vengerburg, presumably fits in somehow, but I honestly don’t care what her purpose is – she’s fighting bad guys while wearing a gigantic, heavy fur coat: a skill-set I thought belonged solely to Jon Snow. If we get more of that Yennefer, and less of the Yennefer who just seems to be hanging around at the palace, whispering about death and destruction, then you can count me in. I may be jumping to conclusions, but I think I like what The Witcher is doing with its female characters: they look powerful, strong (in many different ways), and cool. There are also women of color in prominent roles here, something Game Of Thrones never had.
So what’s the hook? Is it Henry Cavill in a platinum-blond wig (I will never stop making fun of that thing, even if it does actually look pretty decent)? Awesome heroines? Magic? Even as the day of Witcher‘s release draws ever closer, I’m still not sure I can identify anything that will be able to pull in non-fantasy fans. Hopefully, this will be a surprise hit, but I’m nervous to make any assumptions yet.
Martin Scorsese insists that you should not watch The Irishman on your phone – if you absolutely cannot find a way to see it in a theater, then, in his opinion, you’re doing something wrong (though he does make an exception if you have a very large iPad). Why? Well, I assume it has something to do with the fact that Martin Scorsese is probably keen on being nominated for an Oscar or two at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, and he doesn’t want any voters to be deterred by the idea that his grand masterpiece of mobster cinema is, in any way, shape, or form, a TV movie. After all, this is a historical epic – not something you can watch while you’re just lounging around on the couch. Netflix has had to deal with this image-problem many times before – just this year, in fact, the dramatic Roma was snubbed in a few crucial categories at the Oscars partly because of the fact that, well, it’s not a “real” movie. And for that reason, Scorsese will do everything in his power to make sure Oscar voters and critics get the message: The Irishman is credible, and most importantly, cinematic. It’s the same reason why he’s going around saying that the film would never work as a TV series (the mere suggestion probably made his blood boil), and that a traditional studio would never have greenlit a movie in which the protagonist ends up in a wheelchair at the end (I strongly encourage Scorsese to go watch Rogue One, a Disney movie in which every member of the main cast dies by the end of the film).
But he doesn’t have to – because The Irishman speaks for itself. It is a cinematic masterpiece (and it would be whether or not it played in theaters, because, no matter how vehemently Scorsese may disagree, cinema is defined simply as “the art or technique of making motion pictures”). It is, perhaps, less timely than other landmark films of 2019, but that’s because its message is timeless. Some films don’t need to be ripped-from-the-headlines commentaries on society in order to be relevant. And so, without intending to, Scorsese has crafted the darker, more atmospheric cousin to the modern superhero movie – an original movie that simply exists to entertain. The Irishman has plenty of messages (don’t distance yourself from the people you love, karma always catches up with you, killing people for a living is probably a bad idea), but none of them are groundbreaking; none of them are even that deep, or thought-provoking. I don’t think The Irishman is going to linger in peoples’ minds because of its themes, or its weighty analysis of the concepts of regret and remorse – it’s going to be memorable because it’s a fun movie to watch. A really fun movie.
And that’s actually the film’s most impressive achievement, because at three and a half hours long, The Irishman really shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is. But in all that epic runtime, I was only bored twice – during the first and last thirty minutes of the movie. The film starts out very slow, and there’s a few jumps in between different parts of the timeline that are difficult to follow at first (you’re supposed to be able to tell when is when with the help of the various stages of de-aging technology on the lead actors’ faces, but, well…we’ll get to that). But after what feels like an eternity of watching Robert De Niro driving a meat delivery-van, the movie abruptly takes off like a bullet – and then it gets good, when Al Pacino arrives onscreen like the divine, ice-cream devouring presence he is (no, literally, he eats a lot of ice-cream in this movie: so much so that he did an interview about it).
Al Pacino is what makes this movie great, and I have no qualms about saying it. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are obviously incredible actors, legends of the screen, if you will – but Pacino instills the role of notorious labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa with a fiery charisma. Just as Robert Pattinson recently infused an otherwise drab medieval drama, The King, with his signature brand of insanity, much to that film’s benefit, Pacino here makes Hoffa larger-than-life, ridiculously charming, and more than slightly terrifying. Hoffa’s quirks, from the ice-cream addiction to his long list of pet peeves (he actually tries to kill someone for wearing shorts to a business meeting), are all exaggerated just enough to make them humorous. Yes, The Irishman is actually an incredibly funny movie – something the film’s marketing campaign ignored, perhaps deliberately. But ignoring it is a disservice to Pacino, who uses those laugh-out-loud moments to make Jimmy Hoffa a truly sympathetic character – one whom we don’t want to see get hurt. It’s not historically accurate, but neither is most of this movie.
The lead character, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), whose real-life testimonials about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa are the primary basis for the movie’s plot, has had his reliability questioned many times over the years, and his account of the events of July 30th, 1975 is regarded by many as untrustworthy, to say the least. However, in an effort to preserve the film’s secrets for those who don’t know a thing about the Hoffa case (such as me, before I researched the film’s dubious claims), we’re not going to talk about all the minute details of the disappearance and ensuing investigation – or Sheeran’s even more controversial claim about the JFK assassination. The latter is only briefly touched upon in the film, but is bound to become a major talking point for those who have seen it. As for De Niro’s performance – it’s good. Very good, even. But despite (or perhaps because of) all the stony solemnity and brow-furrowing, he simply didn’t affect me on an emotional level the same way Pacino did. Same with Joe Pesci, who has a sizable role as mob boss Russell Bufalino (though I do admire Pesci’s performance for the way he was able to convey, without a single line of dialogue, when his character wanted somebody killed: just a mere side-eye, and you could immediately tell someone was going to get shot dead).
All three men – Pacino to a lesser extent than De Niro and Pesci – do have to act around the iffy de-aging technology that attempts to smooth out their faces into weirdly plastic masks for the first half of the movie, and that’s a huge problem that the film’s lighting crew clearly struggled with: thankfully, so much of The Irishman takes place in shadowy Italian restaurants that it’s often too dark to see the de-aged faces – but even in a scene lit by bright daylight, the World War II flashback in which Sheeran is supposed to be in his early twenties, somehow the shadows of De Niro’s helmet manage to hide almost his entire face from the camera.
I could probably ramble on and on about the film’s beautiful cinematography and production design, and the way that each decade of American history was lovingly brought to life (well, except for the early 21st Century, which looks like a lifeless gray wasteland compared to the vivid vitality of the 50’s and 60’s). But I probably can’t explain it better than cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. I would be shocked if The Irishman doesn’t win in some technical categories at next year’s Oscars – it deserves a lot of wins, except for special effects.
And then, of course, there’s the music. The main theme of the movie actually wore on me after a while, and I was tempted to ignore the score entirely if it weren’t for the absolutely brilliant instrumental piece, entitled Remembrance, that composer Robbie Robertson stuck in the movie’s end-credits (but not even the first half of the credits, where some people might be sticking around to listen: it’s shoved right in the middle, somewhere around the point where they’re thanking the medics and food catering service). I might be so eager to forgive the movie’s faults, just because the payoff, that one end-credits musical composition, is so fantastic.
The Irishman does have faults – I mentioned earlier that it’s not great until Al Pacino shows up. It’s also not great once he leaves the film, with half an hour still to go of everybody basically just sitting around and reminiscing about how great it was when Al Pacino was around. Then we get a little bit of trademark Scorsese bitterness about modernity (there’s a scene late in the run-time where Sheeran is shocked to discover that young people these days don’t even know who Hoffa was). But the vast majority of the movie in between Pacino’s arrival and disappearance is an absolutely enjoyable whirlwind of emotions that I think you won’t want to miss out on.
And, just so you know, it’s perfectly okay to watch The Irishman on your phone. I did, and far from missing out on the film’s cinematic subtleties, I actually loved it. Yes, I might disagree with Martin Scorsese on…virtually everything about the definition of cinema, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a masterful director with a keen eye for carving out a powerful and entertaining story from one of the most convoluted and controversial stories in the history of the American mob.
In the eyes of history buffs, The King will probably be a decent, if boringly conventional retelling of a fascinating story from the vaults of Medieval history. For fans of Shakespeare, this interpretation of the bard’s work, watered down in the telling, will probably be a bland disappointment. But in my opinion, the movie, while not particularly fresh or exciting, is worth a watch merely for the performances from Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson, accompanied by Nicholas Britell’s beautiful score. And if you find yourself drifting off in the first half of the movie, with its interminable gray color palette, dreary dialogue and half-hearted brutality – simply fast forward to when Pattinson shows up about an hour in, at which point the movie finally sheds some of its solemn trappings, develops a faint splash of color, and actually gets interesting.
The story itself is classic: the brief, tumultuous reign of King Henry V (Timothée Chalamet) of England, who stormed and nearly conquered France in 1415. But with two versions of the story out there – the historical account, and Shakespeare’s heavily fictionalized version – the film goes for the least interesting option: trying to blend the two into one coherent whole, using historical realism to set the scene, but sticking faux-Shakespearean dialogue into the mouths of its actors, who, to their credit, actually make it sound halfway decent – up to a point. Director David Michôd and writer and star Joel Edgerton haven’t made anywhere near enough additions or alterations to the story, and as a result The King often feels like it’s treading on well-worn ground – or rather, sinking in the muddy field of Agincourt, weighed down by plate armor and brooding plot. To put it simply, the movie isn’t particularly fun, and it doesn’t have much room to breathe. But what it lacks in originality of voice, it makes up for with the casting of two stellar performers.
Chalamet embodies the young king of England with a stone-cold solemnity that sets the tone for the whole movie – the rest of the movie, however, fails to achieve the same balance of neutrality and watchability as Chalamet does consistently. Rather, the movie itself begins to fall away and fade into fog, while Chalamet’s Henry becomes more clearly defined with each passing minute, until, in its closing scenes, he is the only life it has left. And what life he possesses! Typically seen as a dewy-eyed Hollywood heartthrob, Chalamet is here a gaunt, pale figure with leering eyes that disguise a heart longing for peace in his time – he is at times inspiring (as when he rallies his men for battle on the morn of Agincourt, using dialogue that is nowhere near as impressive as the St. Crispin’s Day speech his character utters in Shakespeare’s play but still sounds good because it’s Timothée Chalamet), or terrifying (as when he confronts his dying father in the latter’s bedchamber, ripping the sheets away from the bed, letting the old man shiver and tremble as the life slips from his body). But he is always a commanding presence onscreen, never rivaled by any of his castmates until Pattinson enters the picture, challenging Chalamet’s calm with a startlingly zany performance that turns The King into one of 2019’s most unexpectedly weird movies.
Pattinson, another actor trying to reshape his image in the public conscious, is a terrifying/hysterically funny revelation in his role as the Dauphin of France. Other reviewers are conflicted about his portrayal of the character, saying he ruins the serious nature of the film, or, alternatively, is its one saving grace. A callous, sadistic idiot, the Dauphin somehow manages to seem like an absolutely credible and formidable force even while being an unabashed peacock, strutting about in fancy black armor, laughing like a maniac and grinning dumbly at his own offensive jokes. But while I personally loved Pattinson’s portrayal, I can easily understand why critics can’t decide whether they love him or hate him – his performance is so deliberately exaggerated that it feels like it must be saying something, or attempting to: but what? If he’s merely trying to insult the French, then at least he’s made Shakespeare happy.
(Something that struck me in Pattinson’s first scene in The King, while he was busy talking about how he wanted to drain Henry’s body of its blood and bury it under a tiny French tree, was how happy I am that he will be soon be the DCEU’s new Batman: immediately after thinking that, Pattinson turned his head in such a way that it almost appeared that he had elf-ears for a fleeting moment – and that, coupled with his long blond wig, impressive eyebrows and sinuous physicality, made me gasp, pause the movie and go on Twitter to express my regret that Pattinson had not been cast as Sauron in Amazon Prime’s upcoming Lord Of The Rings prequel series. I’m sorry I have to bring everything back to LOTR, but this is something that I cannot now unsee and cannot ever forgive Pattinson or Amazon Prime for: just think of the beautiful young Sauron that might have been, gifted with Pattinson’s charismatic craziness! It would have been perfect).
The supporting cast is okay, though the only other standout is Ben Mendelsohn as the aging King Henry IV. Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff is made out to be the film’s Everyman archetype, but the character is boring and lifeless (and Edgerton’s performance is so tired that it’s hard to tell whether his yawns are in-character or not). Then there’s the Archbishop of Canterbury (Andrew Havill), who I feel deserves a dishonorable mention simply because of how insufferably annoying he managed to be in the five minutes of screen time he possessed. As for female characters – there are a grand total of three. Lily Rose-Depp is merely okay in the role of Catherine of Valois, who only appears in the film’s last twenty minutes and has one scene of importance; her performance is most notable for the fact that Catherine claims at the outset that she can’t speak English and then proceeds to do so anyway for the rest of the scene.
The film suffers greatly from its muted color palette, and cinematography that is, for the most part, drab and uninspiring. The sole exception is the scene in which Henry V’s forces besiege the castle of Harfleur, using massive trebuchets to launch flaming missiles over the fortress walls: who doesn’t love a good trebuchet? They’re far more interesting than catapults, in my honest opinion. And filming them in action also allows for plenty of interesting camera-work, as The King proves beyond a doubt. Beyond that, the film has nothing going for it in terms of visual splendor – there just isn’t any. The splash of somber green we get from the field of Agincourt is a brief respite from the damp grays and browns of Merry Old England – but even that is quickly transformed into a melee of upturned mud, and the filth of violence.
For history buffs (myself included) the legendary battle of Agincourt is what will keep you watching until the end of the movie: and it’s teased in a big fashion, with a single line of dialogue delivered by Pattinson’s Dauphin in one of the most hilariously exaggerated French accents you’ll hear outside of a Loony Tunes sketch, guaranteed to make your skin crawl in anticipation of the inevitable – “Let us make famous that field out there, this little village of Agincourt that will forever mark the sight of your callow disgrace.” I’m glad I watched The King for that line alone – and thankfully the ensuing battle delivers exactly what the film needs: it’s brutally epic, chaotic, and realistic. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drown in mud, then The King is the film for you!
An additional incentive to watch the movie (beyond mud-drownings) is the score by Nicholas Britell, which is stirring and appropriately ominous.
All in all, did I have fun watching The King? No, not exactly. I don’t think it tells the story of Henry V better than any history book can – certainly not better than Shakespeare (and I don’t typically praise Shakespeare). But I do think it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of either Chalamet or Pattinson, or want to check out a “highbrow” sampling of their work. Just don’t expect too much from the movie itself – it may be called The King, but its crown belongs firmly to its stars.
Henry Cavill is intent on making us believe that he’s rocking that silly silver wig – and you know what? He’s actually doing a pretty good job of that.
That may be, at least in part, because he actually has dialogue and substantial scenes in this trailer, as opposed to the first teaser for this hotly-anticipated Netflix release – which now has a release date of December 20th. Netflix obviously hopes that The Witcher, with its fast-paced action, alluring premise and tons and tons of magic, will appeal to fantasy fans – especially that crucial contingent of unhappy Game Of Thrones ex-fans who might be too impatient to wait for HBO’s upcoming Thrones prequel, House Of The Dragon. It would be a big win for Netflix as the streaming wars heat up and HBO prepares to launch its own streaming platform, HBO Max.
Henry Cavill himself has a personal stake in Netflix’s war against Warner Brothers (and, by extension, HBO), having been unceremoniously ousted from the role of Superman – a bit of a thankless role these days. Cavill is clearly having more fun chewing on the dramatic, darker material he’s been granted with The Witcher than he ever had with the goofy glasses of Clark Kent – speaking of chewing, we learn in this trailer that Cavill’s character, protagonist and anti-hero Geralt of Rivia, had his fangs filed down, which is…cool, I guess? Creepy? By Cavill’s line-reading, it would seem he intended it to sound vaguely seductive (hey, am I going to sit here and say he’s the greatest actor to ever walk the planet? No, but I do think it’s admirable that he’s landed himself a big role and is clearly taking it seriously, even though his performance does occasionally appear a bit counter-intuitive to that goal, at least based off these trailers – trailers which also do nothing to convincingly sell the idea that Cavill is a natural platinum-blonde).
Cavill’s co-stars are a diverse and intriguing cast of characters: Freya Allen as Ciri has a charming, ever-so-slightly hobbit-y look to her; and Anya Chalotra is every inch a sorceress in the role of Yennefer – both characters, whose backstories have only been hinted at before in Witcher novels and video games, will be major players in the Netflix series. And, considering how cool and powerful they seem to be, that’s probably not a bad thing: Yennefer especially seems to have a great deal of dark magic up the sleeves of her impressive fur-coat.
All in all, the series looks good – with a definite focus on delivering a dark blend between horror (sort of: I don’t know about you, but the CGI monster we catch a glimpse of at 0:22 isn’t all that terrifying), nonstop action (with magic!), and political intrigue (okay, I love political intrigue stories, so sign me up for ten hours of palace drama, royal squabbles, and stunningly beautiful costume design).
What are your thoughts on The Witcher trailer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
I only just recently discovered the Six Of Crows series of novels of Leigh Bardugo; and I’m glad that I did, because reading them has given me the ability to speak with some knowledge on the new casting announcements for the upcoming Netflix series, Shadow And Bone, based on her collected works. The series, which will be faced with the daunting task of condensing or combining elements from her Shadow And Bone and Six Of Crows novels, is shaping up pretty neatly, and has me hopeful that, along with The Witcher and Narnia, Netflix could be developing their own fantasy empire to challenge the likes of HBO and Amazon Prime in the near future.
So who’s been cast? Several of the major characters from Bardugo’s novels are present in the group photo released today by Netflix, with a handful conspicuously absent. Among those gathered we have the master thief and strategist Kaz Brekker, the assassin Inej Ghafa, and the sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, all from Six Of Crows, alongside the powerful Grisha sorceress Alina Starkov, the mysterious “General Kirigan”, and Alina’s best friend Malyen Oretsev, from the Shadow And Bone series.
The biggest name among the cast is undeniably Ben Barnes (Kirigan), who previously portrayed Prince Caspian in the Chronicles Of Narnia – but that’s not saying much. Freddy Carter (Kaz) is probably going to be one of the show’s leads, but he is a mostly unknown actor, whose previous work includes Wonder Woman. Amita Suman (Inej) is best known for a guest role on the latest season of Dr. Who. Jessie Mei Li (Alina) has some experience in theater, but only a handful of acting roles in film. Kit Young (Jesper) has no acting credits. Archie Renaux (Malyen) will appear in next year’s Morbius, but has no other acting credits. So, with the absence of any real star power, we just have to hope that these six actors have a lot of talent between them.
We have yet to hear casting announcements for the other major characters of Bardugo’s series, including Wylan Van Eck, Matthias Helvar, and Nina Zenik. But this adaptation will clearly be playing around with Bardugo’s established timeline for her books, so it’s possible that those characters may not be introduced until later seasons of the series.
So what do you think? Are you happy with the casting announcements? Are you familiar with any of these actors? Share your thoughts in the comments below!