Survival against the odds has yielded some telling film dramas - but what if the odds are 

just too much?



The first half of this drama is so effective that while watching it I little suspected that I would be giving the film a mere three-star rating and even then feel that I was being generous. It could be a matter of taste that is involved here, but I regard Joe Penna’s film as one which, as written by him and Ryan Morrison, pushes credibility to the limit and then goes well beyond it. That does not apply until the film reaches its second half and by then some viewers may be sufficiently invested in it to accept the plot developments which follow but which struck me as fatally unrealistic.


Arctic belongs to the sub-genre that exists within the sphere of disaster movies, works that are tales of surviving against the odds or trying to do so (and, indeed, the heroes of such pieces do usually win through). In these works a disaster occurs, but it is not so placed as to give the film a climax: instead, fate deals its blow very early on. Thus a passenger aircraft crashes at the start of Alive (1993), a collision at sea quickly puts Robert Redford's character in jeopardy in All Is Lost (2013) and in Baltasar Kormákur's outstanding 2012 drama The Deep (the film that comes closest to Arctic) a shipwreck off the coast of Iceland leads to a fisherman surviving in the sea and then finding his way overland to get back home.


The central character in Arctic is Overgärd played by Mads Mikkelsen and when we first encounter him his small aircraft has already crash-landed in the Arctic wastes. His attempts to attract attention from any passing plane and then, on that failing, to set out on foot for a post where help is at hand make up the tale. Although as it turns out a young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) is also involved in the story, one is reminded of Redford going it alone in All Is Lost. Here too there is limited dialogue (perhaps surprisingly for a character named Overgärd he speaks what little he does in English) and Mikkelsen's wholly accomplished performance is something of a tour-de-force and all the more compelling because the situation he is in is made to seem so real. The quality of the first half comes from this, but also from Tómas Örn Tómasson's fine 'Scope and colour photography of the bleak but awesome setting and from the adept storytelling much aided by the pacing that stems from Ryan Morrison's editing. There is also a useful music score by Joseph Trapanese.


Given the absence of further characters, it is as well for the audience to be unaware of how the story will develop from the basic situation and to discover that only as the film unfolds. Consequently, I give no details beyond reiterating that the narrative in the first half is very persuasive on its own terms but that for me at least a point is reached when my willing suspension of disbelief is undermined by events that lose credibility as they push the drama to even further extremes. It's a shame, and all the more so because until then the film is first class of its kind.




Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, Tintrinai Thikhasuk.

Dir Joe Penna, Pro Noah C. Haeussner, Christopher Lemole and Tim Zajaros, Screenplay Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison, Ph Tómas Örn Tómasson, Pro Des Atli Geir Grétarsson, Ed Ryan Morrison, Music Joseph Trapanese, Costumes Margrét Einarsdóttir.


Armory Films/Pegasus Pictures/Union Entertainment Group (II)-Signature Entertainment.
98 mins. Iceland. 2018. Rel: 10 May 2019. Cert. 12A.