In Valhalla Rising, Mads Mikkelsen, the imposing Danish actor who made a sizable impact as James Bond’s villainous adversary in Casino Royale and again as a sexy, forceful Igor Stravinsky in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, now essays a new kind of leading role-as a tattooed, one-eyed mute enslaved by a vicious warlord to kill off enemy tribes in bare-knuckle combat. Silent and deadly, he roams the scorched landscapes of the earth in the time of the Scottish clans (the movie was written and helmed by a film festival favorite, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, and is a co-production from both Denmark and Scotland, with minimal dialogue spoken in English), tearing out jugular veins with his teeth, smashing skulls into bloody stumps with rocks, disemboweling his victims while their scattered entrails pile up like carnage from a charnel house. His only friend is a young boy of unknown origin who brings him food and water. Caged and shackled by his feudal master, One Eye is treated like a collared dog until he discovers salvation in the New Order that is sweeping society-a powerful spiritual force called Christianity. Enter the leader of a band of scruffy Christians caring lethal hatchets (no peace-loving disciples here, auditioning for positions as alter boys) on a mission to find Jerusalem, with One Eye and his loyal boy servant in tow. It is 92 minutes of unspeakable violence guaranteed to sour your stomach. Do not see this movie after Mexican food.
How many severed heads impaled on sticks, knives ripping through kidneys and guts piled along the road can the traffic in one movie bear? As I said, this thing is 92 minutes long, but it seems more like 92 days at hard labor. Divided into six sections, called (for no logical reason) “Wrath,” “Silent Warrior,” “Men of God,” “The Holy Land,” “Hell” and “The Sacrifice,” it goes on for 45 minutes before it even shows you a tree; the ravaged locations look like a desolate foreign planet. Comparisons to the equally depressing but more substantive and visionary The Road are inevitable, and everything is doubly enigmatic. “Where does he come from?” the Christian asks, not sure One Eye can hear him. “He was brought up from hell,” says the boy. And hell it is, relentless and boring. Searching for the Holy Land, they sail through a mist-enshrouded sea with no current, in a scene that seems eternal. The only sound is the creaking boards of corpses being thrown over the side. When they finally land, they are not at the promis ed land, but at a place inhabited by savages in loincloths who look like extras from The Last of the Mohicans. Could it be that One Eye is a displaced pilgrim in the wrong century, beating Christopher Columbus to the draw?
Valhalla Rising is nothing more than an updated version of the kind of time-honored Hollywood Viking movie Kirk Douglas used to do in his sleep, which means lots of inhuman, bone-crunching violence and no plot. For a juggernaut with one eye sewn shut who never says a single word, covered with mud, slashes, burns and bruises, Mr. Mikkelson still cuts an imposing figure, but Valhalla Rising doesn’t look like it was any more fun to make than it is to watch.
Running time 92 minutes
Written by Roy Jacobsen and Nicolas Winding
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown
1 Eyeball out of 4