Arctic is the directorial debut of Joe Penna, a Brazilian musician. Surprising. Much like The Standoff at Sparrow Creek earlier this year, Arctic is a confident and focused character study that feels more like a film buried deep in a director’s filmography, sandwiched between two major movies as a way of “something smaller” to refuel.
It’s a direct survival tale about a plane crash survivor, Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen), making his way to safety across the desolate landscape. He’s accompanied by a semi-conscious fellow survivor played by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, who literally has no name nor character beyond being someone to motivate Overgård.
It’s a simple story. Don’t worry about it.
The simplicity is what has carried Arctic through the Cannes Film Festival and into wide release. No love story sandwiched between survival scenarios, no showdown against wolves. Nothing like that dilutes Overgård’s grim journey across snow and ice. He faces challenging terrain, dwindling supplies, wildlife. It’s straightforward. Audiences seem to find it refreshing. It mostly is. Little in Arctic offends expectations. Mikkelsen always puts on a good show, and here he’s all muted emotion. Quiet grit with an interior desolation. I don’t think anything here is deep, but it’s good. The score and cinematography carry a lot of weight, too.
It’s an amusing coincidence that Mikkelsen starred in the absolutely atrocious Polar earlier this year (available on Netflix), with Arctic following in most major markets just a month afterwards. I wouldn’t say the two show opposite sides of the actor so much as watching both gives a nice range of Mikkelsen’s abilities and makes you question just how he ended up in either. (He’s by no means the weakest link in the former, though, and is maybe the only good thing about it.) But don’t watch Polar. Watch Arctic.