“Arctic” is a mesmerizing work of film.
It earns a place among the most captivating survival dramas in modern cinema thanks to the compelling work of the actor at its center, Mads Mikkelsen.
Set against a starkly beautiful but desolate landscape, Mikkelsen (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story“) brings to life his character’s will to persevere with understated power and presence.
It’s formidable work that must be seen to truly be appreciated.
What’s it about?
Mikkelsen plays Overgård, the sole survivor of a plane crash in a barren, snow-covered wasteland.
When audiences meet him, it’s unclear who he is or how long he’s been there. The film quickly makes clear, however, that he’s resourceful. He’s found a way to both keep himself alive in the short-term and make his presence known to potential rescuers, should they fly overhead.
Things get complicated, however, once it isn’t just his life at stake. The grave injuries to a would-be rescuer (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) force Overgård to make a choice.
Stay in the relative safety of the camp and let a stranger’s life possibly slip away, or try to save them both by venturing into the brutal cold for a days-long trek to civilization.
One man show
While “Arctic” technically lists three total cast members, it really is a one-man show.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is its economy. Yes, it’s a performance of few words, but that’s just the start of it.
By design, the film tells us little about its main character, then challenges its lead to make audiences care. Mikkelsen, in turn, not only makes you care, but puts you on the edge of your seat.
Mikkelsen makes clear at all times what Overgård is mentally wrestling with only facial expressions and body language. Resignation, hope, growing apprehension, fear — he delivers them all, mostly without a word. It’s a marvelous thing to witness.
Between Mikkelsen’s bravura work and writer/director Joe Penna’s stellar visual storytelling, “Arctic” brings to the screen one of the year’s most memorable movie experiences.
See this one on the big screen, if only to truly appreciate the way Penna captures on film the stark, unforgiving landscape upon which the story unfolds.
In addition, for audiences who may recognize Mikkelsen from his prior work on TV’s “Hannibal” and “Doctor Strange“, let this serve as a re-introduction. His work is simply superb here, and hopefully it leads to more lead actor roles in challenging films in the future.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir. Directed by Joe Penna.
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language and some bloody images.