Best of 2021: Mattson Tomlin on The Green Knight

The writer-director of Mother/Android, out now on Hulu, shares his deep love of David Lowery's Arthurian epic.

I really, really loved The Green Knight. First of all, it’s not a movie with a huge budget (I’d guess it probably cost around $20 million, maybe even a bit less), but it doesn’t look it. It doesn’t feel it. As I’m thinking about what projects I want to do next and what budget I can get, it has become a cornerstone of how, with the right people and the right planning, you can make a big movie for less. There are parts of the film where it’s comparable to Dune – which had a considerably bigger budget – which I find astonishing.

I’m a big fan of everybody in The Green Knight’s cast: it’s a murderer’s row of people that I love, from Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander, to Sean Harris, Joel Edgerton and Ralph Ineson, all the way down to Kate Dickie, who’s one of those titans it’s so great to see in this kind of film. I thought Dev Patel was so well cast, and I loved that his hair was wet the whole time, and that yellow cape he was wearing! Before the film, I was most psyched for the film’s aesthetics, and then found myself really taken aback by the fact that it worked on all of the levels. I think I’ve watched The Green Knight four times now. I went hard! It hasn’t gotten up to Matrix numbers yet, but it’s on its way.

This summer, I was back on the East Coast, staying with my family, and I got a projector and a sound system and converted one of the rooms in the house into a screening room. All summer, I was just mad about watching movies. I had a really good setup there, and that was the way I first watched The Green Knight: on a big screen at home, with a couple of friends, thinking, “This is excellent.” It was a lot of fun.

Any time somebody pulls off a magic trick like The Green Knight, it’s evidence that you can make ambitious movies like this and it will work. The movie is so quiet. It is astonishing to me how long it goes with people not saying anything, especially as so many people in Hollywood are allergic to quietness. This film allows us to say, “People do have attention spans. You can make a quiet movie. You can have experiences that feel very cinematic and poetic, and it doesn’t have to always be a blockbuster explosion. It can be smaller and also financially successful.”

I really appreciated how The Green Knight told an Arthurian tale beautifully and in a way that didn’t overly Hollywood-ize it, but instead just let it be as it is. There is something that I’m working on, an adaptation of a book we all know about, and before The Green Knight, it seemed that I would have to change everything about it if I made it into a film. But The Green Knight proves that these texts are so metal that you actually don’t need to mess around with them that much, if at all. In a way, The Green Knight makes me brave for what I’m trying for myself.

Mattson Tomlin was born in Romania during its revolution and was quickly adopted into the U.S. After receiving his master’s in directing from the American Film Institute, he began a career in screenwriting and has appeared on the annual Black List six times. Some of his other projects include Project Power (Netflix, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman), Fear Agent (Sony Television, directed by David Sandberg) and Little Fish (directed by Chad Hartigan), and The Batman (Warner Bros/DC Comics, co-written with director Matt Reeves). His first film as director, Mother/Android, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Algee Smith and Raúl Castillo, is out December 17 on Hulu. (Photo by Henry Joost.)