The new film “Against the Ice” is based on the remarkable true story of Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen and his 1909 polar expedition across the frozen tundra of Northeastern Greenland. This man-versus-nature survival thriller from director Peter Flinth is inspiring but also quite harrowing, putting just as much emphasis on the psychological toll as it does the physical. And while it may lack the overall tension you might expect from a movie like this, the film still does a good job immersing you in its story and setting.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who penned the script alongside Joe Derrick) plays Ejnar Mikkelsen, the captain of a crew long into their search for a missing arctic expedition. During a recent venture into the icy wild, Ejnar discovers a diary containing a map. The map reveals the location of a cairn where Captain Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen of the lost expedition hid his final records of Northeast Greenland. Denmark had hopes of reaching the uncharted territory before the Americans, but the loss of Mylius-Erichsen and his team had them second guessing their investment in Greenland. That made Mikkelsen’s expedition all the more important.
Desperate to reach the cairn and retrieve Mylius-Erichsen’s records, Ejnar asks for a volunteer to accompany him on a second and more arduous sledge journey, this time further across the treacherous ice cap. His tired and homesick crewman know the dangers and aren’t eager to risk their lives, especially so close to their time to sail home. A wide-eyed mechanic named Iver Iverson (Joe Cole) is the only one to step up and soon the two head off on their perilous adventure to the northern edge if Greenland.
A fairly big chunk of the movie follows Ejnar and Iver as they battle nature and the elements with two teams of sled dogs and limited supplies. Cinematographer Torben Forsberg shoots the landscapes as sparse and forbidding. He thrusts the characters and us into a harsh, jagged, and ice cold setting that truly tests the bounds of survival. But then in the second half there’s an interesting transition to the psychological as cabin fever becomes as dangerous as the environment. It’s an unexpected turn but a compelling one.
Yet strangely through it all we only get a couple of scenes of true edge-of-your-seat peril. That doesn’t mean the movie is a slog, but its an odd choice for a survival story in this mold. There’s also painfully little told about the two main characters. Ejnar wears a locket of a woman he left back home, but she’s little more than an vague image. The sketch we get of Iver is even thinner. We’re told even less about him, his background, etc. These things aren’t deal-breakers, but it’s a lot easier to invest in characters when you there’s something personal to latch onto.
Still “Against the Ice” does what it sets out to do, and it tells this incredible story by pulling us into the brutal setting with its characters. Coster-Waldau gives yet another rock-solid performance – grizzled, stoic, and sturdy. Cole is a good compliment and both actors turn it up a notch in the headier second half. And while it make lack the grittier edge that would have made the movie great, cinema is made for stories like this and Flinth’s movie is a good grab for Netflix. “Against the Ice” is now streaming.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS