The snowbound drama “Arctic” is a grim and unadorned tale of survival, and a full dose of the acting mastery of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen’s career has taken him from superstardom in Denmark to success in Hollywood, as the title character in the TV series “Hannibal” and villain roles in “Casino Royale” and “Doctor Strange.” He’s great at tightly wound menace, unpacking surprising emotion just below the placid surface.
In “Arctic,” Mikkelsen plays Overgård, the only survivor of an expeditionary plane that crashed somewhere in the snowy north. It’s not specified at the outset how long Overgård has been here, but it’s apparently been a while, judging from the giant SOS sign he has dug in the snow near the wreckage.
In that time, Overgård has developed a daily routine. He digs snow to make sure the SOS is still readable. He checks the fishing lines that he has lowered through holes in the ice, and stores the fish he catches in ice for later. He walks to a nearby ridge and cranks up a portable radio, in hopes of getting a signal from a passing aircraft.
One day, the radio gets a ping from a helicopter. But when the craft gets close to Overgård in the blizzard winds, the copter itself crashes. Overgård finds the pilot has been killed, but the other passenger (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) — apparently the pilot’s wife — is alive, though seriously injured.
Now Overgård has to make a choice: Stay in the comparative shelter of the plane, or risk freezing — and, oh yeah, a polar bear — to take the woman over the snow to find help.
Director Joe Penna, writing with Ryan Morrison (who’s also the film’s editor), present a stripped-down, no frills thriller. The action is dependent on Overgård’s decisions and actions, as he bundles the woman up on a sled and pushes on through the bleak conditions.
As “All Is Lost” did with Robert Redford, “Arctic” rises or falls on the strength of its star. In that regard, Mikkelsen does not disappoint, His spare dialogue and economical movement capture the desperation Overgård is facing and the determination he has to plow through the obstacles ahead. It’s a tour de force of a performance from one of the best actors working in movies today.
Opened February 1 in select cities; opens Friday, Feb. 22, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City) and Megaplex Thanksgiving Point (Lehi). Rated PG-13 for language and some bloody images. Running time: 98 minutes.
(Note: Director Joe Penna will be in attendance at the Broadway Centre Cinemas for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. screening on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.)