Arctic review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Arctic is a survival adventure smart enough to know where its strengths lie. It’s not in the dialogue which mostly amounts to cursing and long-winded speeches about life in this type of scenario. It’s not in the action of a crash-landing plane or the dangers of local wildlife, though that is present within the film. No, the true appeal of these types of pictures is the mood it sets. And here is a film-wise enough to know that watching Mads Mikkelsen struggling to brave a stranded stay on a snowy mountain is compelling enough with bloated melodrama ramblings.
Mikelson finds himself as the sole survivor of a plane crash. His supplies are limited. Food is sparse. Fire is limited. The cold continues to mount. Wolves are near. But Mikelson holds his own with very little in terms of resources and words. He lumbers through the environment, silently seeking civilization. He hunts for food. Sometimes he is lucky but not often. He has flares but, of course, the one plane that passes by will not see it. A twinge of hope that flickers out, as most survival adventures do. It could never be so easy.
The first half of the film meanders with Mikelson and it plays fairly well. Watching him scrounge through the endless white and trying to shut out his despair when all on his own is quite the performance. There’s no shortage of actors who could pull off this stranded character trope, slowly losing their mind as they gain frost on their faces. Mikelson is particularly interested in how he maintains a consistent silence of control. He realizes he can’t stay in the same spot for too long but tries to remain calm in such a dire situation. This limited voice makes his cries from when his attempt at a flare-based rescue goes wrong, hit far harder than the actor screaming with his fists punching the snow. The struggle remains mostly internal.
Those fearing this is the whole movie may be relieved when the tension ramps up higher in the second act. His wife (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) is alive but not responding and she won’t last long if he doesn’t act fast. He’ll have to ask fast, especially when there’s a wolf right outside the crashed plane he has converted into a shelter. They’ll have to make the long trek and it won’t be easy. Their journey is fraught with much peril, at one point involves wolves and ice. And from there the tension keeps mounting so that by the time a helicopter will finally arrive, there’s a sense of relief.
Arctic is the directorial debut of Joe Penna and it’s not half-bad for a fairly predictable genre. It follows all the familiar tropes but mostly follows them with a certain grace, playing up the survival instinct with earnest. There’s little here to subvert from the familiar, mostly keeping on track right down to the moment of wolf prowls on into the shelter, growls, and forces Mad to get violent. But it’s sufficient production with lots of great shots and a strong performance from Milkeson considering he’s working with so little, in more ways than one.