Arctic, tells the story of a pilot named Overgård who is stranded in the brutally cold Arctic Circle. It appears that he has been there for some time. Clearly skilled in the arts of survival, Overgård has kept himself alive in the relative safety of the wreckage of the plane. After relentlessly doing all of the right things. He faces a moral choice to risk everything to save the life of another.
This is the first feature-length film from the Brazilian filmmaker Joe Penna. It has to be said, he does an outstanding job capturing the scenery. The camera work is incredible and he does well developing the intensity of the situation facing the characters. As a directorial feature goes, Penna has shown that he has a masterful skill. Taking an extremely limited storyline and creating a brutally tense experience.
It's fair to say that, Arctic has virtually no back story to it what so ever. We have no idea exactly how long Overgård has been there. Nor do we know why he was there in the first place. The sole basis of the story is on the will of the man to survive. And ultimately the lengths that one can go to keep alive. The only diversity to this comes from a young woman. Who Overgård must risk his own life further to morally save another, rather than let her die. Yes, as far as a survival film goes it does provide a truthful and believable situation but the sparsity of any detail leaves the viewer as lost as the main character.
With virtually no dialogue and everything being about directly focused on the emotions of Overgård. The whole film could have been epically awful if the casting of this man was not right. But the best bit is, this is where the whole film is held together brilliantly. Mads Mikkelsen provides a career-best performance as Overgård, displaying his full range with maximum effect. Mikkelsen himself, says that this was his most challenging role yet and he does an amazing job.
Maria Thelma Smáradóttir is cast as the young woman that Overgård chooses to save. Now, she does a fair job but it has to be said, she did not need to do a great deal. So I may be being harsh here but I can't see here winning any awards or picking up too many roles on the back of this performance.
I know what you are thinking, it does sound like I thoroughly disliked this movie. But that is not entirely true. Let me elaborate, where this film does work is in the intensity of the actual events. But it starts to just feel like watching an episode of Bear Grylls, Man vs Wild. On top of that, if you have seen the trailer, then you have seen it all. So as the film develops, the lack of any back story simply makes the whole thing a very long extended struggle. Yes, it's tense and fantastically focused but even if it was based on a true story like say Touching the Void, 127 Hours or Everest. The viewer may have the capacity to develop a closer connection and empathize with the struggle.
Overall, Arctic is a good cinematic experience and well worth a watch. If you are a fan of survival dramas and Mads Mikkelsen, the chances are you will get a lot out of this film. Just be aware that it can feel as much of a struggle for the viewer as it is for the main character.