With so much of the nation at record low temperatures this week, I’m not sure this is the most opportune time to release a movie called Arctic, but what the hell. If you are looking for a way to get out of the cold, what better idea than to escape to a movie about the coldest place on Earth and one man’s heroic efforts just to survive it? First seen in the official competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where I saw it in the far sunnier climes of the South of France, this is an exceptional story — essentially a one-man show in which a cargo plane crash-lands in the most remote and frozen area of the Arctic.
The pilot, Overgard (the great Danish star Mads Mikkelsen), is seen at the beginning of the film already in the midst of figuring out his predicament. We aren’t told immediately just why this man is shoveling snow and fishing between cracks in the ice for food. Slowly the crash site is revealed, and we see how he got there. Joe Penna, a first-time feature filmmaker best known for successful YouTube videos with 3 million followers, works from a script he wrote with Ryan Morrison to set the scene for this harrowing survival tale of a man with a will to live trying to find a way out.
But Overgard also has other humane decisions to make when a helicopter he senses might rescue him crashes instead, killing one of its two pilots and severely injuring another (Icelandic actress Maria Thelma Smaradottir, who doesn’t have much to do except look severely injured). He must decide whether he is in this for himself or will try to save her as well, and thus his journey begins, using his plane door as a gurney and taking her with him on a quest to get out of this extreme danger. Frightening things happen along the way, including an encounter with a polar bear.
The film shows just how strong the human spirit can be in the most dire of circumstances and is one terrific adventure to chew on in this cold hard winter. Brazil-born Penna is helped tremendously by the stunning cinematography of Tomas Orn Tomasson and a pitch-perfect score from Joseph Trapanese. The film was shot in the most remote areas of Iceland and was a challenge just to get made. It is an exceptional job.
Mikkelsen again demonstrates what a fine actor he is, making this man a full-blooded human being with minimal dialogue and no real backstory. He takes on the rigors of a film that could not have been a walk in the park and succeeds admirably. Producers are Noah C. Haeussner, Christopher Lemole and Tim Zajaros. Bleecker Street puts it in limited release today. Check out my video review above with scenes from the film.
Do you plan to see Arctic? Let us know what you think.