Published Mar 01, 2006Too bad this film wasn't called Selma. Sarah Polley is luminous as the soothsaying outsider cursed with the ability to foresee the deaths of her fellow Danes; there hasn't been a cherry-haired femme fatale like this since Run Lola Run. Unfortunately, it's called Beowulf & Grendel, and with that title come the performances that supposedly constitute the central conflict of the film.
Grendel, the avenging troll, looks like Nell's little-known brother as he gratuitously grunts his way through scene after scene. Gerard Butler is the legendary Beowulf, a warrior who enraptures those around him with pearls of wisdom and noble monologues that ooze sentiment. The story, based on the ninth century epic poem, is simple enough: Beowulf settles an old debt by helping King Hrothgar (played by an over-the-top Stellan Skarsgård) hunt a murderous troll. Sound good?
It isn't. Instead of speaking an authentic Anglo-Saxon dialect, these warriors speak contemporary English: "I know. I look like walrus shit." Their lines are even peppered with the word "fuck," jarring us from the film; the attempted modernisation doesn't work. The screenplay is deeply flawed, ignoring rules of causality in favour of convenience. Selma holds a secret she could easily disclose, but uses it as a ploy in her romantic dance with Beowulf, even though her character's sympathies would dictate she give it up.
We even get a few unnecessary chapter titles like "A Hate is Born," telling us something the film's about to show us anyway. Things do get interesting when Grendel takes revenge on Beowulf's best friend, but it's simply too little too late. Just like Grendel, we've suffered too much, and feel like taking our exit. (Equinoxe)