You think it’s cold? You think you’re suffering? When you watch 53 year-old Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen’s grimly harrowing man vs. nature struggle, whatever you’re experiencing pales in comparison.
Mikkelson plays Overgard, a researcher/explorer whose tiny orange-and-white plane crashed in a frozen wasteland. Resourceful, he’s been living in the cabin of that plane for weeks, if not months, sustained by raw fish that he’s pulled from beneath the ice.
Our first sight of him is trudging around, digging, scraping, grunting and clearing a series of paths in the snow; they turns out to form a large, black SOS sign in the white tundra, hopefully visible from the sky above. In addition to that, he spends hours manually cranking a transmitter, signaling for rescue.
When a helicopter hovers nearby, Overgard is ecstatic – until the ferociously howling polar wind causes it to crash. The only survivor is a badly injured woman (Icelandic actress Maria Thelma Smaradottir), the co-pilot whom Overgard is determined to save.
She’s in a state of shock, so Overgard scavenges what he can – a functional cigarette lighter, camper stove, instant ramen, maps and flares – then carries her to his makeshift shelter, where he capably closes a bleeding gash in her belly with a staple gun.
Soon, Overgard realizes that cautiously remaining in his downed plane is futile, so he uses a sled to courageously transport the comatose woman across the vast wilderness, seeking refuge in a cave or quickly constructed igloo. It’s an arduous, perilous trek.
A prowling polar bear is a continuous adversary, first stealing stoic Overgard’s stash of arctic trout, then threatening their lives.
Shot in Iceland, it’s co-scripted by film editor Ryan Morrison and Brazilian-born director Joe Penna with spectacular cinematography by Tomas Orn Tomasson – and, perhaps, it can trace its ancestry to J.C. Chandor’s 2013 “All is Lost,” starring Robert Redford.