Mads Mikkelsen Maria Thelma Smaradottir
Iceland’s bitter cold and isolation are constant companions in this film about a man whose cargo plane has crashed in the Arctic, and who only has flares to signal passing aircraft that he is there. We don’t know how long he’s been there, but he’s clearly knowledgeable in rigging together ways to save his life, e.g., an SOS sign planted in the snow, a contraption designed to bring in fish from water below the snow for food, and a signal transmitter to connect with aircraft. We are told nothing about him; we glean whatever information we have from observing him for days carrying out the business of surviving in hopes of being rescued.
Little does he know what’s ahead. His hopes are dashed when he signals a passing small plane to stop. No one inside seems to detect him…but then, it starts circling back. His hopes are renewed by this sight when, horror of horrors, the plane crashes. Upon investigation, he finds the pilot dead, but the co-pilot, a young woman, is still alive. He gently takes care of her wound, and carries her back on a sled made from the plane’s door, to his own wrecked plane, which has become his temporary home. He has found a photograph in the downed plane of the woman with her husband and son looking out happily at the camera, which he places before her as a way of encouragement. He always reassures her, “They will come for you.” “It will be all right.”
This introduction gives the viewer a sense of this unusual story and how it will play out. It becomes an excruciating drama about the seduction of hopeful events, a hero’s dogged response and determination, and the seemingly endless frustrations a man encounters in trying to fulfill his moral imperatives.
The inveterate Mads Mikkelsen (Jagten, At Eternity’s Gate, The Hunt, TV’s “Hannibal”) gives a tour de force performance in playing out the single-minded, grounded Overgard, who manages to meet every conundrum thrown to him by fate. The entire movie hinges on what happens in the end. Has he been successful? Will he get rescued? Will his charge whom he has taken upon himself to rescue be reunited with her family?
Not every one of these questions will be answered. The writers (director Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison) have achieved excellence in giving skeletal details underlying a major heroic story while keeping the viewer on the edge of the seat. Tomas Orn Tomasson’s cinematography evokes awe and mystique in the polar landscape, while still capturing the intimacy of the inside-plane scenes of Overgard trying to feed the found woman and find out anything—anything!—from her.
This is a film for the outdoors person who loves adventure and challenges involving a quiet hero following his conscience.