Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 27, 2019)
A new entry in the genre related to stories of survival in harsh circumstances, 2019’s Arctic introduces us to Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen). A plane crash leaves him stranded in the Arctic.
When a helicopter materializes to rescue him, it bites the dust as well. This kills the pilot (Tintrinai Thikhasuk) and leaves a female passenger (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) severely injured.
Overgård finds himself with a dilemma, as he needs to decide whether to stay in the relatively safe camp and hope for another rescue attempt or to head off in search of assistance. Overgård chooses the latter, a challenge made more complicated by the woman’s dire health.
As I implied at the start, the survival genre doesn’t come as anything new, but it remains open to dramatic possibilities. Indeed, what comes with more potential than literal life or death tales such as this?
On the other hand, many films of this sort suffer due to the absence of an extended collection of characters. Most concentrate on a small group of participants, and an extended story of some dude on his own can wear thin before long.
When done well, the genre entertains, such as with 2000’s Cast Away. When done poorly, the genre becomes a tedious drag.
Though I wouldn’t deem it a “tedious drag”, Arctic can tax patience, mainly via its slow pace. To some degree, I appreciate these choices, as the film doesn’t ladle out gratuitous action just to placate the audience.
This means not much happens for a while. We go more than 10 minutes before we hear a line of dialogue, and much of the first act consists of Overgård’s monotonous daily routine.
When the helicopter crashes, we find a brief infusion of drama, but it dissipates pretty quickly. Through the movie’s midway point, we mainly see the basics of survival in the wild, without much to quicken pulses.
Roughly halfway through the flick, Overgård decides to take the risky journey, and this opens up the story to greater drama – in theory. However, Arctic still lacks a lot of drama, as we get occasional flashes of danger but not much.
Again, I appreciate these decisions in an objective sense, as they represent a story that boasts more realism than the flashier version one might expect. However, the absence of much overt tension tends to make this a slow ride.
Granted, there’s inherent tension related to the circumstances, as those obviously create a dire situation. However, the movie doesn’t manage to convey a lot of true drama along the way.
Some of this comes from the fact that Arctic essentially offers a one-man show. The female remains unconscious most of the time, so we get little dialogue or interaction.
At least Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball and James Franco got to monologue into a video camera! Without any kind of involved secondary character or a release valve for dialogue, Arctic can feel sluggish.
Mikkelsen conveys his role’s dire straits pretty well, as he embraces the despair and desperation without overacting. He does his best to carry the show on his own.
I can’t blame Mikkelsen for the movie’s basic lack of impact, as he acts the role as intended. The manner in which the filmmakers tell the story becomes the issue, as we find a survival tale without much to capture the viewer’s attention.