Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Movie Review: Arctic

Arctic *** / *****
Directed by: Joe Penna.
Written by: Joe Penna & Ryan Morrison.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen (Overgård), Maria Thelma Smáradóttir (Young Woman). 
We have all seen many survival stories now – films which are largely centered on one character, fighting to survive against impossible odds out in nature. There are a few keys for those movies to work – the most important one being that the central performance has to be strong enough to carry the movie along through long stretches of silence, but also makes you care if this person actually survives (think Tom Hanks in CastAway or Robert Redford in All is Lost). Audiences want to relate to the central person, and try and put themselves in their shoes – even if we all know, somewhere, that we’d be more than likely to die in a similar circumstance (one of the reasons I enjoyed the recent Body at Brighton Rock is because the protagonist is as beaten and bruised as any of the characters in these survival movies – and she only spends a night in the woods). Movies often do this by casting someone famous (Hanks and Redford again) to make you immediately identify with them, and then give you a few scenes before the accident that leaves them stranded.
One suspects that staging the central accident in Arctic – a plane crash – may well have been outside the budget restraints of what is a fairly low budget movie. The film starts with its central character, Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) already stranded in the middle of the arctic, and already well established in his routine. He has fishing station sets up, he has a radio that he cranks to emit a beep – hoping against hope that someone will hear it. He spends a certain amount of time each day working on his SOS sign or his rock sculptures, etc. – all regulated by his beeping watch. He sleeps in the hull of the plane that crashed. How long has he been there? How did the accident happen? Were there other survivors who has since died, or were they all killed in the crash? We have no idea – and we never really find out. Overgård is mostly silent – of course. The movie kicks into a higher gear when a second accident happens – a helicopter spots him, but the landing goes wrong. The solo pilot is a young woman, who Overgård is able to save, although he’s basically in a coma, and doesn’t speak the same languages that Overgård does, so communication isn’t really possible. Bur she does have a few supplies with her – some ramen, some propane – and most importantly, a map. A few days away is a seasonal station. Overgård may just be able to make it – even if he has to drag the young woman with him.
All this happens in the first 30 minutes, with the last hour being the plodding journey across the arctic. This is perhaps where Arctic doesn’t quite live up to those other movies. While Mikkelsen is up to the task of making Overgård into an interesting character – or at least a sympathetic one, especially as it goes along, and it becomes clear that he could likely save himself if he was willing to abandon the young woman, and won’t – his journey for the audience is much like it is for himself – slow and plodding. It doesn’t help that the arctic is basically one big, white wasteland. There isn’t a lot of variation in his journey. The film does get some success of throwing some unexpected roadblocks in his way – but they feel kind of contrived at times (a short sequence that may bring to mind 127 Hours especially feels forced).
And yet, the basic premise works. It is largely based on Mikkelsen’s fine work – he is a good actor, frequently not used well, and he anchors the movie. And almost everything does feel somewhat based in reality – with only those few moments that really ring false. The film won’t make you forget Cast Away or All is Lost or 127 Hours, or the best this genre has produced. But it’s still quite good. It’s plodding at times, but I think that’s kind of the point.

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