THIS TELLS THE BLOODY TALE OF WARRIOR BEOWULF'S BATTLE WITH GRENDEL, A MURDEROUS TROLL. THE BATTLE-SCARRED HERO BEOWULF LEADS A TROOP OF WARRIORS TO HELP KING HROTHGAR, WHOSE KINGDOM IS DESTROYED BY GRENDEL. HOWEVER, BEOWULF'S ATTEMPTS TO FIGHT THE TROLL ARE THWARTED WHEN GRENDEL REFUSES TO ENGAGE IN BATTLE.
The otherworldly landscape of Iceland lends an appropriate touch of dark fantasy to this modern retelling of Beowulf, the oldest epic poem in the English language. Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) brings the right balance of physicality and world-weariness as the Swedish hero Beowulf, who travels to Denmark to fight the monstrous troll Grendel (Icelandic superstar Ignvar Sigurdsson), which has been plaguing the house of King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård, buried under a mound of prosthetic hair). However, what transpires is not a battle between good and evil, but a convoluted mystery of sorts, with Beowulf playing the detective who discovers that his foe is more human than monster, and Hrothgar less wronged innocent than catalyst for his own downfall. Director Sturla Gunnarsson succeeds in pulling this legendary story from the dust of academics by contemporizing the dialogue (Andrew Rai Berzins has an excellent ear for hard-bitten palaver), and his visuals are nothing less than striking, but the film attempts to be both monster movie and melancholy drama, while never quite satisfying the requirements of either genre. Regardless, the quality cast (which includes Sarah Polley from Dawn of the Dead as a sharp-tongued witch with a connection to Grendel) and some well-handled action sequences should hold viewers attention even when the unnecessarily complex plot does not. --Paul Gaita