First Hit: This film keeps the audience engaged, although there are only about 30 speaking lines in the whole thing.
There are just a handful of movies where the actor can carry the film by themselves. It’s difficult to keep the intense drama high enough while retaining the audience’s engagement. One film that achieved this was 2013’s All is Lost with Robert Redford. In that film, he’s sailing on a boat that crashes into an errant cargo container and tries to stay alive in a sinking ship. He’s the only one in the film.
In Arctic the film opens with Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) scraping snow away from a large SOS signal he’s made in the snow. He then checks a rig he’s prepared to catch fish through holes in the ice. He goes back to his crashed airplane. At a particular time, he gets up and goes out to a snow hill and turns a crank on a box that sends out a distress signal. After so many turns (we hear him mutter a count), he packs up the machine and heads back to the protection of the fuselage.
We don’t know how long he’s been out here, but it must be quite a while because the plane is deteriorating.
He’s very regimented because of the way he does the same schedule each day. One of the things he does each day is clean a small pile of rocks. We find out only later what this represents.
One day, just as he finishes cranking the signal device, the green light goes on, meaning someone has gotten the signal. Then a helicopter appears. However, the high wind starts tossing the aircraft around, and as it starts to fade from view, it crashes. Overgard’s hopes of being rescued are dashed.
Going to the wreckage he finds the pilot dead, and a young woman (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) injured but alive. Watching him work to help this woman is a study in kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness.
Although he discovers that she doesn’t speak English, he finds a way to get her to squeeze his hand, letting him know that she’s alive and her current level of her strength.
Throughout the rest of the film, she murmurs about ten unintelligible words, at most, and the rest of the dialogue is him asking her to squeeze his hand and telling her it will be “OK.” Because he found a map of the area in the helicopter wreckage, and that the young woman is not getting any better, he decides to try to move them to an outpost that’s identified on the map.
Fighting off a polar bear, the intense elements, steep crevasses, and caverns, he makes his way towards the outpost pulling the young woman behind him.
The scenes are shot so well that I felt just as cold as they were sitting in my warm cosy seat. The intensity of the weather and the patient way Overgard stayed focused to his task was unbelievable.
Mikkelsen was amazing. His clarity of staying alive surpassed anything I think I could have dredged up from within. I believed every step of this journey. Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison wrote a fantastic screenplay. Penna must have put himself and the crew through incredible hardships to be able to film this story.
Overall: I was enthralled every step of this journey.