Movie Review: 'Arctic' (2019) Mads Mikkelsen Affectingly Leads Dramatic Thriller

At the heart of every survival movie is that aching question. How far would you go to claw your way out of an abysmal circumstance that places you at nature’s mercy? Then comes that other question. Would you be willing to do everything the film’s protagonist does? These questions are at the core of “Arctic,” which stars towering screen presence, Mads Mikkelsen.

The dramatic thriller picks up with Mads Mikkelsen’s Overgård, who has survived a plane crash in one of the most unforgiving landscapes on earth. Overgård is stuck at some undisclosed spot in the Arctic Circle. He has been there for a while, and as Joe Penna’s incredible direction shows “Arctic” viewers, he is making the most of it. His goal is to survive the wait for rescue.


Following a man through his daily routine in a deserted and harsh landscape could sound off-putting. However, “Arctic” is not watching over the shoulder of any protagonist. This one is brought to life by Mads Mikkelsen. He brings every poignant and affecting nuance, those who have seen his other work, have come to count on. In truth, Mikkelsen is one of the very few actors, who can make such an on-screen scenario work.

His presence is the key to infusing this film with the momentum it picks up. Mikkelsen’s Overgård has not given up hope for rescue. Then an event (better left unspoiled) happens that makes his plight urgent.

He is confronted with whether to wait things out. Or make a bold move towards the potential of rescue. “Arctic” brilliantly sets up the stakes, both physical and emotional in nature.

There is such an abundance of beautiful humanity that shines throughout this film. All of it genuine and stunning to watch. There is little in the way of dialogue. However, “Arctic” does not need it. Remember, it stars Mads Mikkelsen, an actor capable of expressing the words of an entire script in a single glance.

Told with a forward narrative, “Arctic” does not provide viewers with out of context, well, context. There are no flashbacks or reasons for Overgård to share his life story. Viewers do get glimmers of what the life he is trying so hard to get back to, may entail. However, there are no definitive answers in that realm.

There is a moment so pure in its yearning that you cannot help crafting some conclusions. Whether they mean what this viewer thinks they do is not confirmed. Again, “Arctic” relies on Mikkelsen to tell you the story without having to say it, and it works.

There are undoubtedly going to be comparisons to “The Grey,” however, “Arctic” truly sets itself apart. The former was more of an ensemble flick that saw various parties getting picked off. “Arctic” is a much more isolated narrative. One primarily built around Overgård’s selfless willingness to endure a lot for a worthy cause.

There is also a polar bear, so if you thought all Overgård had to deal with was violent snowstorms, and a treacherous landscape, in the quest for rescue, think again. Director Joe Penna has delivered a quiet marvel that is engrossing beyond belief. Much in the vein of “Moon,” it captures the human experience in a way that gives it meaning.

“Arctic” is a nail-biter. The tension that drives the concern for what plays out is palatable. To put this in perspective, the movie is scream-at-your-screen-level suspenseful. In a good way. Accordingly, its ending is one that will likely haunt you for days.

Rating: 9/10


[Featured Image by XYZ Films / Bleeker Street]

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