It says a lot about an actor’s abilities and skill to compel an audience in a movie that’s based almost solely around them and on them. Mads Mikkelsen has always been one of the most underrated actors of my generation and in “Arctic” he proves why. Much in the realm of “Castaway,” and “All Is Lost,” director Joe Penna sets down on a man who has lost just about everything and bases much of the dramatic and emotional weight on how he responds non-verbally. Mikkelsen is up to the challenge, suffice to say, and that’s what helps make “Arctic” a worthwhile outing for fans of survival thrillers. “Arctic” surely doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it’s compelling enough to warrant at least one viewing.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Overgård, perhaps the unluckiest man in all cinematic history. After crashing in the Arctic, he spends his days holed up in the in tact remains of his plane smack dab in the middle of a snowy wasteland. The only way he’s able to keep sane is by relying on a strict routine of survival; this involves fishing for food, setting up a giant SOS sign in the snow, and searching for the signals of passing planes hoping to be rescued. When he spots a random plane in the distance, he’s stunned when it’s caught up in the storm and crashes. He saves the only survivors on board, and carries her back to his plane. Left with no other resources, he has to decide if he wants to let her die, or risk his own imminent death in the wilderness in an effort to get her back home.
Fans of Mads Mikkelsen might even want to see “Arctic” two or more times mainly for his stunning performance. While director Penna doesn’t quite deliver something entirely unseen and original in the sub-genre of survival films, Mikkelsen is fantastic as a man who’s been isolated in the snow for a very long time and spends his every waking moment trying to maintain his sanity by keeping a strict regimen for survival. Mikkelsen plays the character like a man truly deprived of some of the basest human luxuries like warmth, comfort, and general piece of mind. Once the female survivor enters his realm, she re-introduces a lot of elements he probably took for granted.
One of the most powerful moments is when he eases her down on to a makeshift bed, and for a moment holds her closely as if savoring human contact he probably hasn’t had for over a year. There’s also a surprisingly powerful scene where he has his first hot meal in what probably seemed like a lifetime to him. For all intents and purposes, “Arctic” is entertaining but can border on exhausting, if only for the fact that almost nothing seems to go well for this man. The way his luck turns to shit at every corner feels almost sadistic at certain points, especially in one scene involving a rock. That said, “Arctic” does present some glimmers of hope and ideas about the thirst for survival, and human adversity. It’s a solid thriller with almost no dialogue that works thanks to the excellent direction, thick tension, and Mad Mikkelsen’s emotional turn.