To me, Nicolas Winding Refn films have always been perfect examples of all style and no substance. Even Bronson, a biopic about one of the most compelling living figures, turned out to focus more on Refn’s visual tricks than the actual plot or characters. What could have been a fascinating, dramatic character study ended up being more of a 90 minute music video. It’s a fatal flaw, but Refn’s films survive because he’s just that damn good when it comes to visuals. The cinematography in Valhalla Rising, for example, is un-freaking-believable. Refn found the perfect look and feel for a gritty, violent viking movie. He even found the perfect lead in Mads Mikkelsen, who is great in the role despite sadly having not one single line of dialogue. If only Refn could find a way to marry his visual style with some great pacing, characters, and drama, the sky would be the limit. Sadly, I don’t see that ever happening, and Valhalla Rising is more evidence of that. As beautiful as it is to look at, there’s absolutely no emotion whatsoever in this film, and it’s not for a lack of trying. Refn wants us to care about Mads’ character “One-Eye,” he trys to create a touching relationship between One-Eye and a young boy, and he even attempts to piece together a narrative, but mostly fails on all counts. It probably would have been better had Refn decided to go completely abstract with it rather than even attempting any sort of narrative, since it does work so well on just an atmospheric level. So if you see it, see it for those reasons alone, or if you just really like vikings, but don’t go in expecting anything more.