Arctic is a survivalist drama where the ferocity of the experience glacially mounts in the eyes of the phenomenally well-crafted performance of leading and lonely Mads Mikkelsen.
When a plane crashes on the frozen arctic tundra, the pilot (Mikkelsen) must do everything to stay alive. He builds a camp in the skeleton of his craft and repurposes any extra materials he can for all manner of DIY tools. Just as a helicopter rescue seems imminent, the weather ensnares the chopper and wrecks it along the ice. The barely surviving rescue co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) inspires a desperate departure from the sanctity of the pilot’s routine, to attempt to reach a seasonal outpost.
The loner survivalist drama is something that seems to coincide with a lunar eclipse. They appear in the movie-going calendar, rarely occupying the same setting. Artic’s recent notable predecessors are of course Tom Hanks and his trusty Wilson living the island life after surviving an air crash in Castaway. Then the lesser known and seen (but no less terrific) J.C Chandor directed Robert Redford solo nautical adventure All is Lost was next. And the wildly popular garbage fire that deserted Matt Damon on another planet rather than inflicts him on humans anymore in Ridley Scott’s The Martian. For Castaway and All is Lost, they require their performers to combat their loneliness with repetitive, procedural tasks. The Martian does this too, but rather than an inanimate object with a bloodied face to occasionally debate with, Mark Watney (Damon) is in a constant state of ‘Instagram story.’
Mads has an incredible range as a performer. Flexing his face and expressive eyes he slips into the slimy and duplicitous Le Chiffre, he retreats inward, letting the audience study (as if through a microscope). The minor reverberations of his emotions through the calculating cool of reptilian Hannibal Lector. And wears his emotional range on his sleeve as the sweet principled and accused teacher in The Hunt. For Arctic his performance requires all those things. There’s a kind of matter of fact proficiency that he conducts himself within the opening stages of the film that almost made this terrifying prospect boring. He’s physically and psychologically equipped to outlast what nature is willing to throw at him. As time goes on though and external forces (polar bears) and catastrophic disappointments mount, that veneer of certainty slips away to reveal panic and concern.
Writer/director Joe Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison do everything they can to strip away every artifice. The setting is oppressive in every way. The blistering cold gnaws at you physically and the overwhelmingly hostile tundra combats your very soul. There’s an essential and yet understated element to the film that emerges for our protagonist (Mikkelsen) as he finds meaning in the motivation to not only endure as an individual, but to bring the rescue co-pilot (Smáradóttir) back to civilisation.
Artic is an enthralling, matter of fact tale of survival told with a kind of straight-faced defiance. Mikkelsen is a rare performer with the physical and emotional durability to carry the film. Look how far I got into this review without a single Alive or cannibal reference.
Director: Joe Penna
Written by: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.