“ARCTIC” — 3 stars — Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir; PG-13 (language and some bloody images); in general release; running time: 98 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re looking for a nice little movie to get your mind off the cold winter months as you pine away for an early spring, “Arctic” isn’t it. Joe Penna’s icy adventure is more of a “triumph of the human spirit over the harsh, cold elements” kind of movie — with an emphasis on “cold.”
“Arctic” follows a marooned pilot as he tries to survive the unforgiving frozen tundra. We meet Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) sometime after he and at least one other companion crash-landed in the frozen north. We don’t know how long he’s been there, but it’s at least been long enough to bury his friend and dig out a giant “S.O.S.” in the rocky terrain.
Overgard is living in the wreckage of what appears to be a small cargo plane, and fortunately it seems to have been outfitted with some basic survival gear. He has a sleeping bag, warm clothing and the wherewithal to set up some ice fishing holes in the lake lurking under the ice.
Early on in the story — a little too early — a small helicopter responds to a manually powered beacon that Overgard operates for a window of time each day. Unfortunately, the winds are too harsh, and the helicopter crashes nearby.
One member of the rescue team is killed in the crash instantly, but the other (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) survives, albeit with a nasty abdominal wound. Overgard immediately sets about nursing her back to health while scavenging what he can from the wreckage. This effort leads to a brief glimmer of hope: According to a map he finds in the helicopter, there might be a seasonal station a few day’s hike away. The only question is whether Overgard should take the chance of such a dangerous journey.
“Arctic” will feel familiar to anyone who saw Robert Redford in 2013’s “All is Lost,” which dealt with a similar predicament on a wrecked yacht in the middle of the ocean. A lot of the film is about problem-solving and dealing with different threats along the way, such as a polar bear who picks up the scent of Overgard’s fishing efforts.
But “Arctic” also adds a different dynamic, since Overgard isn’t only out for his own survival. He has to grapple with how best to help his injured companion, and we see his nurturing side as he repeatedly assures her that things will be OK, even though they speak different languages and she’s rarely coherent enough to know what’s going on.Comment on this story
In spite of the second character, like “All is Lost,” “Arctic” is a mostly dialogue-free film. It’s also a beautiful film, packed full of gorgeous, bleak winter landscapes, exposed to the elements and, thanks to the time of year, never quite dark.
Mikkelsen is more than up to the acting challenge, letting his actions and behavior do the talking, and Penna’s effort is a celebration of the human spirit. “Arctic’s” beautiful isolation makes for a slow burn, but for audiences in the right mood, it can be a thoughtful and ponderous journey.
Rating explained: “Arctic” is rated PG-13 for some intense situations, brief gore (crash aftermath), and some profanity (including subtitled use of the F-word).