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'Arctic' review: Mads Mikkelsen's brutal ordeal in survivalist drama

The Danish character actor gives the fullest level of commitment conceivable in this Iceland-shot tale.

Mads Mikkelsen stars in "Arctic."

Mads Mikkelsen stars in "Arctic." Photo Credit: HELEN SLOAN SMPSP

'Arctic' 

Directed by Joe Penna | Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir | Rated PG-13

Playing at Angelika Film Center, The Landmark at 57 West

"Arctic" arrives in theaters with New York and a large swath of the United States experiencing bone-chilling temperatures, so if you're looking to warm up at the cinema this weekend, you'd be better served with almost anything else.

Of course, the flip side to that is the fact star Mads Mikkelsen's tremendous ordeal in the picture might make you feel better about your own icy commute home.

We all need some perspective in life, even on the coldest of days, and there's no better way to get it than by realizing how lucky we are that we're not like his character Overgård, fighting to survive while stranded in the Arctic after a plane wreck, engulfed by the bleak frozen tundra and menaced by a polar bear. 

The movie, shot in Iceland and directed by Joe Penna (who co-writes with Ryan Morrison), is best received as a kind of documentary about its own making. Mads is really out there in the cold, subjecting himself to a grueling ordeal that includes burying himself in the snow, being hammered by brutal winds, dragging the injured character played by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir all over the place, and a lot more.

From that standpoint, it earns its rightful place in the pantheon of survivalist stories. The Danish character actor gives the fullest level of commitment conceivable here and conveys many strongly-felt emotions with a scarcity of dialogue.

But the movie never reaches that higher plane of existence where its story comes to say something larger and more meaningful than these elemental details. The instinct to say less is admirable, but the movie is too scarce with exposition, too limited in back story and eventually suffers from a dearth of dramatic payoffs.

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