“Valhalla Rising,” which stars Mads Mikkelsen (best known for playing the much more suave devil Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale”) as a one-eyed, mute, enslaved gladiator who joins a group of Viking Christians on a conquest that turns into an existential journey to hell, is certainly not what one would expect from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. And that’s part of the beauty of the film. Before this latest atmospheric mood piece containing echoes of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Refn helmed the hyperkinetic “Bronson,” about England’s most dangerous criminal turned cult hero who never seemed at a loss for words or fists. Prior to that Refn made his name crafting stories from the drug-dealing underworld in his “Pusher” trilogy (which, incidentally, was Mikkelsen’s launching pad into film). Refn it seems is less like his fellow Dane Lars Von Trier and more like American Steven Soderbergh, both directors in constant motion, striving less to create important art than to simply surprise themselves. And by doing so, they often achieve both.
To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.