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film review

Mads Mikkelsen in a scene from Arctic.Bleecker Street

  • Arctic
  • Directed by Joe Penna
  • Written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison
  • Starring Mads Mikkelsen
  • Classification PG
  • 97 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

If you had to spend 97 minutes trapped in the Arctic with just one person, you could ask for worse company than Mads Mikkelsen. Although he’s spent a good portion of his career cast as kinky psychopaths (Casino Royale, Doctor Strange, television’s cannibalistic horror show Hannibal), the Danish actor projects a natural steel-nerved calm that promises you’re in capable and resourceful hands. Sure, the guy might completely flip a switch and turn on you for the purpose of guzzling your sweet innards, but that’s a risk you’re willing to take.

In the bluntly titled Arctic, Joe Penna’s directorial debut, Mikkelsen is the only conscious human for the film’s entire stretch, playing a stranded pilot waiting for a rescue that may never come. Normally in the survivalist genre, directors pad out their film’s run time with flashbacks, fleshing out motivations and backstory and basic emotional reasons to care about whether the hero lives or dies. Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison abandon that crutch, focusing solely on how Mikkelsen plans to both endure his predicament and escape it.

It’s an admirable approach, which might be more effective if the film were 10 to 15 minutes leaner, as there’s only so much frozen misery – storms, slips, starvation, a polar bear – that can be shouldered, even on Mikkelsen’s sturdy frame. The actor offers an incredibly committed and determined performance, but by the film’s end, you wish he’d be able to get back to doing what he does best: eating.

Arctic opens Feb. 8