Brazilian YouTube musician and artist Joe Penna makes his debut as a filmmaker with the man-versus-nature epic “Arctic” starring Denmark’s No. 1 export Mads Mikkelsen. The spellbound thriller about a downed pilot trying to survive in the frozen tundra keeps the audience captivated the way Tom Hanks did in “Cast Away” and Robert Redford in “All Is Lost.”
Filmed in Iceland, substituting for the Earth’s northernmost polar region, the 19-day shoot proved to be Mikkelsen’s toughest gig as the inclement weather made shooting conditions challenging. Tough for you and me but the former Hannibal Lecter makes it look easy as he fends off polar bears, goes ice fishing and carves SOS messages in the snow. Penna’s film helped me reach the conclusion that even if I survived the plane crash, I’d be a goner in less than 48 hours.
The patch on Mikkelsen’s parka identifies his character as Overgard. We’re not really sure how long he’s been living in the fuselage of his aircraft or what caused the plane to crash but judging by his determination and physical condition the incident must have happened recently, anywhere from a matter of days to a few weeks.
Hope arrives in the form of a rescue helicopter that almost overlooks our protagonist who resembles a small dot on a blanket of white vastness. As the red chopper closes in, Mother Nature’s savagery manifests itself in the form of a strong wind blast that causes the pilot to lose control.
The helicopter crashes killing the pilot but the co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) manages to survive. Overgard rescues the badly injured female, transports her to his makeshift living quarters and begins to nurse her back to health. But first, he closes the large gash in her stomach with a stapler. At this point, I also learned that she would also be a goner if I was in Mikkelsen’s shoes.
Only a handful of words are uttered during “Arctic’s” 98-minute running time which goes by quickly. Mikkelsen carries the film with a physical performance and facial expressions that speak volumes. Don’t expect a romanticized storyline that finds Overgard and his new companion going the same route as Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in 2017’s “The Mountain Between Us.” There’s no time for that. The clock is ticking, and our hero must find a way to get his patient medical attention before it’s too late.
Overgard wraps up the injured pilot, puts her on a sled and begins an arduous trek through the ice and snow in hopes of reaching an outpost. You’ll be glued to your seat with fingers crossed, while quietly cheering for the two characters.
“Arctic” is a perfect example of our will to survive with a first-rate Mikkelsen. It’s also an interesting choice for the first feature from director Penna who was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, where the average temperature this time of year is 84 degrees.