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Film review: Arctic

Mads Mikkelsen tries to make it out of the snow alive.


Mads Mikkelsen has just an awful time in Arctic, a beautifully photographed, bracing addition to a survival genre that includes Gravity, Cast Away, 127 Hours, last year's Adrift and, let's be real, The Shallows. Mikkelsen's Overgard is a pilot stranded in the titular land area. We don't know for how long, but it's been enough for him to establish a living space (his crashed plane), food source (imagine eating only fish all the time) and attempted rescue routine. We know nothing about him other than he is meticulous, resourceful and desperate to get out of there. When a helicopter appears he thinks he's saved, except that crashes, killing the pilot and gravely injuring the woman on board (even though she is the only other actor in the movie, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir gets no lines—there are still new and exciting ways to rob women of their voices). Now with two people to worry about—one close to death—Overgard decides he must make for civilization. He thinks he knows where that is—he's got a paper map—and he sets off into oblivion, hoping to find people and not polar bears.

Making his feature debut after moving from YouTube to television, the Brazilian director Joe Penna hangs a lot on Mikkelsen: We need to be interested in this man's survival without knowing anything about his life—who or what does he have to get back to? Moreover, why does it matter? (Even Gravity had to give Sandra Bullock a dead kid; her being stranded in space was apparently not enough for which the human spirit to triumph.) What was his mission? How did he crash? Is he a good person? He certainly seems to be, caring gently and diligently for his colleague, but maybe he's doing penance? The movie offers you nothing but a man trying to survive. You're on board with this sort of thing or you're not—in this case Arctic is incredibly captivating, made with care and wholly entertaining, plus it's got an ending that leaves you with a discussion.

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