‘Arctic’ Review: Welcome to the Mads Mikkelsen show

There are certain things that a human being simply can’t conquer long term. Being stranded out in the cold is one of them, and arguably lives at the very top of the list. It’s a good thing these treacherous situations allow for thrilling cinematic journeys, because Hollywood keeps pumping them out on a yearly basis.

For Overgard (Mads Mikkelson), the mission is simple: survive in the habitat you have built after a plane crash left you lost in the middle of one of the coldest lands on Earth, or gather some supplies and tools, and head to ground where rescue is possible. Welcome to the stunning new film, Arctic.

Over the course of 98 nail-biting and chilly minutes, we take this ride with co-writer/director Joe Penna (making his directorial debut) and Mikkelson. From caring for a fellow crash-landed woman (Maria Thelma Smaradottir), to feuding off a polar bear, and nursing various injuries while catching enough fish for food and making constant signals in the snow, Overgard is our moral compass for the entire film.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are only two actors in the entire film. Overgard and the woman he is sworn to protect, sometimes putting his own life at risk to ensure hers finds salvation. It’s a selfless act that works easily due to the high wire skill of the Danish talent you will know more about as 2019 unfolds.

Arctic is a Mads Mikkelson showcase. You believe everything that Overgard does, says, and sets out to do due to the caliber of the actor holding the reins of the character. Penna and Ryan Morrison’s script doesn’t have a lot of meat on the bone, but Mikkelson makes every bite seem as juicy as ever due to his ability to flesh out the most minimalist of details. Whether it’s dealing with the bear or trying to build a protective cave-like sleeping ground for his survival friend and himself, the movie sits squarely on his shoulders and thrives on his power.

The movie doesn’t take a shortcut in putting Overgard’s desperation on full display. There isn’t a convenient rescue item waiting across the land for our protagonist to find that comes at the right time. The movies doesn’t always move at a thriller’s pace, but plants enough seeds in each moment that the elements provide the rush when the film slows down. The affliction of the conditions and versatility of the constant threats adds an authenticity to the film that other Hollywood productions would have avoided.

You’ll be rooting for him and the woman, who is never given a name, to make it out alive, but Penna, Morrison, and Mikkelson never show their hand or give away an idea that gives you peace of mind in what the conclusion will hold. If you aren’t on the edge of your seat by the final second of this film and your nails are completely chewed off, check your pulse.

Watching this film made me chilly. The temperature in the theater of which I screened the film was perfectly fine, but I found myself crossing my arms and packing my chest in for a sudden slumber. This happens due to the emotion and connection the film instantly gives off. It takes you out of your solitude, and plants you in a completely different one. In short, Arctic takes you there right with the characters.

Thanks to Mikkelson, and a director willing to back off and ride the “less is more” train, Arctic is the best survival film in years. Anybody can appreciate it and find some escapist shock in its grip.

I’d pack an extra coat and reliable shoes if I were you.

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