If you still need proof that writer/director J.C. Chandor’s work on 2013’s All Is Lost remains stranded aboard the shipwrecked SS Underrated, look no further than 2019’s Arctic.

When the former was released, Robert Redford’s solo, silent(ish) turn hogged the spotlight — understandably so — but the film isn’t as much of a one-man show as it appears on screen; everyone behind the camera were equally integral to its success.

Case in point: Arctic’s Mads Mikkelsen should be just as capable as Redford at shouldering a similar affair; replace All Is Lost’s water with tundra, and — voila! — that’s basically Arctic’s man vs. nature tale. Audiences don’t have the same sort of history with Mikkelsen as we do marveling Redford’s mug, but usually Mikkelsen can be more than relied upon to add character-actor flavor to any cinematic stew, a skill that could be utilized to affecting effect as an unconventional lead. But the prototypical Straight Man-ness of his role in Arctic cramps his style (Redford’s the epitome of a Hollywood Straight Man).

Maybe Mikkelsen should be criticized for failing to elevate the material, but it’s ill-suited to his wasted talents; he was seemingly provided just as few helping hands on set as his deserted character in the actual movie. The filmmaking is starved of All Is Lost’s thoughtful expressionism and immersive experientialism, which is to say: we neither feel his struggle, nor are intellectually compelled to contemplate its allegorical, universal dimensions; in its current form, the story serves as little more than merely a basic reminder of humanity’s perseverance.

The only question it kept making me ponder: would Arctic be more engaging if it was based on a true story? I’m sure this version is rooted in extensive factual research, but there’s always going to be more intrinsic interest surrounding a true story, even if this technically-fictional iteration represents the too-real plights of too many past survivors and victims. But, at the end of the day, it’s always about the execution; the how tends to be more important than the what, no matter the specifics of the latter.

3 thoughts on “‘Arctic’

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Write all Night:

    What are your feelings on The Green Book.

    Can you distinguish the differences in the performances that made Viggo Mortensen a best actor nominee while the performance of Mahershala Ali is being considered for best supporting actor?



    1. It’s mostly just campaign jockeying on the part of the powers-that-be who never want multiple performances from their movie to contend against each other in any category; why settle for one Oscar when you can try to win two?! I believe a movie’s producers submit their preferred categorizations to the Academy, who normally approves whatever they request. The Favourite faced a similar situation this year; all three gals have pretty equal screen time, yet Colman’s in “lead” and the other two are “supporting”, for a myriad of subjective, defensible reasons.

      I actually think Green Book’s case is a bit clearer. To me, its story belongs to Viggo; we start with him and his family, and we end with him and his family. Both actors are obviously crucial to the movie, but Viggo’s arc feels like more of the primary focus.

      I hope that answers your question!


  2. Anonymous

    Best analysis I could ask for. Never thought of it like that. With that type of thinking, you should be the film critic for the New York TImes!!


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