Championed by a truly sensational performance from Mads Mikkelsen who carries the entire film on his own without ever saying much, “Arctic” is one of the finest films of its kind that’s patient in its approach, persistent in its narration & poignant in just the right doses to deliver a powerfully moving & utterly engaging survivalist drama, and marks a solid debut for its musician-turned-filmmaker.
A film about the indomitable will of the human spirit to survive against all odds, the story of Arctic follows a man who finds himself stranded in the polar region after a plane crash and must make a decision regarding whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or risk his life by embarking on a perilous trek through the unknown in hopes of making it out alive.
Co-written & directed by Joe Penna in what’s his directorial debut, Arctic is crafted with restraint and finds the first-time filmmaker versed in the craft of storytelling as he never hurries the process and allows plenty of time to acquaint the viewers with the sole survivor in the icy region. Penna also makes sure the audience is invested in the protagonist before he leaves his comfort and embarks on a deadly journey.
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There isn’t much dialogue in the film, nor is there any need for it as our character’s emotions articulate everything that he’s feeling in the given moment. It is a simple premise of a man stranded in the wilderness but Penna’s deft touch & Mikkelsen’s emotional range lift the whole thing up by a great deal. The plot remains grounded and never attempts to overdo things. And when the peril deepens, it has a gradual feel to it.
The beautiful & desolate Icelandic locations make up for the ice sheets of the Arctic, and the surroundings not only have an authentic vibe to it but also look as exquisite as they are harsh & punishing. Cinematography is undeniably arresting, keeping the camera movements controlled & steady, while cold color tones further enhance the imagery. Editing unfolds the story at a mindful pace, making sure it stays riveting at all times. And the somber score simply fits.
The real highlight of Arctic, however, is Mads Mikkelsen’s remarkable performance that single-handedly elevates this story to a better level. Illustrating his character’s despondency, desperation & determination with pitch-perfect clarity without saying anything, the Danish actor delivers a tour-de-force input that easily ranks amongst his finest works. He is methodical & precise throughout, brings us on board with his character’s situation rather effortlessly, and also makes his predicament felt strongly.
On an overall scale, Arctic is an incessantly captivating survivalist drama that only becomes more compelling as the plot progresses, and concludes on a very satisfying note. A promising start to Joe Penna’s filmmaking career and another outstanding addition to Mads Mikkelsen’s acting résumé, whether this film will work for you or not depends entirely on just how much you’re invested in the protagonist’s journey. And with Mads Mikkelsen in the role, how can you not be? Definitely amongst the better films of the year, Arctic is absolutely worth your time. Highly recommended.