STARRING: MADS MIKKELSEN; MARIA THELMA SMARADOTTIR
DIRECTED BY: JOE PENNA
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
As far as survival films go, Arctic is one of the coolest. Director Joe Penna keeps things simple, taking Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who has the look of a man that saw his fair share of bar fights, and entertains us with a near wordless drama out in the frozen tundra. It’s not that we haven’t seen a fair share of movies like this- The Martian, Castaway, The Revenant all come to mind- but just like those tales, it’s fascinating to see man’s ability to battle the elements to stay alive. Arctic is a fierce tale of man vs. cold, with a blistering performance by Mikkelsen, in a reminder that the climate is the biggest thing to fear.
The opening shot of Arctic is of someone digging into the snow. It’s a man who goes by the name Overgard (Mikkelsen), carving with a stick that looks fashioned into a shovel, and spelling out massive letters- S.O.S. We don’t really know how long our main character has been stranded, but the airplane he crashed in has become his own personal mobile home. One thing is for sure, it’s been some time. Consider that Overgard has a massive beard, has his own system of ice fishing poles propped for the catch of the day, and a schedule worthy of a military man. He is living from day to day, hoping someone will see him.
The promise of rescue arrives and then crashes, in the form of a helicopter, knocked down by violent winds. Overgard races to rescue those inside and the only person alive is a co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smaradottir), unconscious, with a massive wound in her stomach. If you thought this might bring more dialogue or a companion for Overgard to live with, instead it is another weight to carry. This woman’s life becomes his responsibility and he must make the decision whether to venture into the Arctic looking for help or stay put and risk dying.
One of the most important aspects of making a survival film is how believable the conditions are. Director/co-writer Joe Penna succeeds at submerging us into the mind of the lone character. He may not say many words, but Mikkelsen’s eyes say it all- always the sign of a fantastic actor. He is afraid of dying, comes face-to-face with a hungry polar bear, feels a responsibility for the condition this woman is in, and at any minute is ready to lay down and die. The way I would describe the tone of Arctic is dread. The long sheets of untouched snow are signs of an empty abyss. Complete nothingness that can swallow you whole.
What follows with that dread are the back and forth possibilities of Overgard and the pilots death. Unlike the plethora of isolated dramas from before, Arctic achieves the most with very little. Every item has a unique purpose. They hold potential as a weapon to fight off a predator, a sled to use as a shield, a piece of clothing to use as a signaling device, or cord to tie up a wound. These tactics of survival in a white snowy void, matched with an actor who is a constant pro, proves there is something perfect about Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal here. It takes a special actor to be able to work alone in his head and keep us in fear that he won’t make it. Arctic is impossible to forget, I recommend you go see it, and don’t get left out in the cold.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady