‘Hotel Mumbai’ Film Review: Nervy Account of Terrorist Attack Keeps Exploitation in Check

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The worry regarding certain movies that recreate real-life nightmares is that the filmmaker sees the incident as a form of action-adventure tourism, a way to fake an experience so that genuine tragedy is reduced to an adrenaline boost. But the prevailing feeling watching Australian director Anthony Maras’ feature debut “Hotel Mumbai” is of heart-in-the-throat panic as it places us inside the Indian capital’s storied Taj Mahal Palace Hotel when it was besieged by a well-armed militia of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists on a citywide killing spree in November 2008.

The distinction — the thriller that terrifies, as opposed to the terror that thrills — is an important one when choosing to watch the unfolding of the worst situation imaginable, realizing that only some of the hostages you get to know are going to survive. (Of the 174 people killed throughout Mumbai, 31 died at the Taj over the three days.) In this age of regular mass shootings, when fear of being numbed to the steady drumbeat of such news might be as worrisome to our well-being as assuming that no place is safe anymore, any movie that sweats bullets to vividly portray what real bullets do is in its way a kind of grim act of artistic service to our violence-saturated culture.

The Paul Greengrass method of researched, you-are-there immediacy (“United 93” especially) filmmaking seems to have been an inspiration, since Maras and co-screenwriter John Collee (“Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World”) based their film on extensive interviews and time spent at the Taj. But they’re also not above time-tested disaster movie devices for threading in heart and tension: composite characters of varying nationalities and class representing the hotel’s breadth of clientele and employee; we’re-in-this-together dialogue intended to stir us; and cross-cut suspense set pieces (keep the baby from crying, the last-minute cell phone call, the killer’s around the corner) with the distinctive aroma of screenwriting invention, not reportage.

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These contrivances shouldn’t work, but somehow they do, probably because the general air of hellishness never dissipates in Nick Remy Matthews’ lived-in cinematography and Peter McNulty and Maras’ white-knuckle editing, so whenever old Hollywood intrudes, it’s a mostly welcome distraction.

The movie’s most serene images are arguably its earliest, when a boat coasts into a fishing village under a hazy sun carrying 10 grunge-attired Pakistanis with heavy bags, and a voice in their earpieces calmly assuring them “Paradise awaits.” At the same time, we meet kind-eyed Sikh husband and father Arjun (Dev Patel) as he readies himself for work at the Taj as a waiter in the chic restaurant of star chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher, “New Amsterdam”), a benevolent taskmaster who likes to remind his staff that the hotel’s motto is “Guest is God.”

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Personifying that hand-and-foot treatment are arriving A-list guests David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi, “Counterpart”), wealthy marrieds who bring with them a newborn and a nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, “52 Tuesdays”). Also checking in that day is a Russian playboy billionaire (Jason Isaacs) whose vibe I’m willing to bet was described in the script as “mysterious.”

Maras sets the stage for his no-frills depiction of violence with the gunmen’s initial attacks at a train station and a restaurant. The way two members of the group slip into the Taj makes for a chilling reveal. When the jihadists soon take over the Taj, driven by the drumbeat of class hatred from “Brother Bull” in their ear and shooting anything or anyone that moves, guests and staff are forced into hiding wherever they are. In a private VIP clubroom, chef Oberoi and Arjun take charge of the utensil-brandishing cooks and waiters who are willing to protect the guests they’ve herded there at all costs, while they wait for special forces to arrive from locations hours away.

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As the situation intensifies, one of the movie’s strengths emerges in the depiction of the homicidal extremists prowling the hotel; they aren’t mere faceless villains or cookie-cutter baddies. Maras’ methodical depiction of their behavior — calm when killing, crying when wounded, crafty one second, feverish the next — adds an unsettling depth to the movie’s portrait of young religious fanaticism. They’re simultaneously real and zombified. There are even strange attempts at humor in their naiveté, like one murderous zealot’s sudden skittishness at searching under a dead woman’s shirt. You may not laugh, but these pinpricks of humanity oddly never seem out of place.

Couple that with Maras’ refusal to turn any of his besieged characters into a standout action hero, preferring a range of survival choices from ill-advised and pointless to risky and brave, and you have what amounts to a resonant dramatization of our terrorist problem at large: one side is shallow and unrelenting, the other is scared and hardly unified about what to do. It grounds “Hotel Mumbai” in the human, even as it fractures our senses with gunfire, bombs, and blood. Maybe the best thing I can say about “Hotel Mumbai” is that I kept waiting for it to become “Die Hard,” and it thankfully never did.



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‘The Mustang’ Film Review: Matthias Schoenaerts Tames a Horse and Saves Himself in Prison Drama

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Horses and men have been mythic companions as long as movies have been around, so why does it feel as if within only the last couple of years, with “The Rider,” “Lean on Pete,” and now French filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s touching drama “The Mustang,” have we gotten a fuller examination of this relationship?

Maybe because we’re finally seeing horses treated as flesh-and-blood characters and not simply beautiful accessories or four-legged extensions of the rider’s personality (or just vehicles for transport). Which is surely why de Clermont-Tonnerre was drawn to the stories coming out of prison programs around the world that utilized animals as therapy — living, breathing, loving creatures who could help re-socialize those coarsened by incarceration.

But “The Mustang” — which de Clermont-Tonnerre wrote with Mona Fastvold (“The Childhood of a Leader”) and Brock Norman Brock (“Yardie”), and which recently premiered at Sundance — isn’t just about what happens when a hardened prisoner (Matthias Schoenaerts) learns to tame a wild horse. We’ve all seen enough movies that we can say it together: he learns about himself, too. What’s uniquely resonant about her approach is that, by framing this rehabilitation story in the context of not just our treatment of the incarcerated but also the horses’ situation (wild mustangs rounded up en masse as a population control measure), her film is about a relationship forged in a give-and-take that treats beast and human as emotional equals.

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In fact, de Clermont-Tonnerre’s opening images are of freedom, captured explicitly from the perspective of the animals: a herd of mustangs at play, at rest, and roaming in a gorgeous mountain range, until the sound of whirring blades cuts through the sound of hooves, and a copter enters the wide frame to guide these horses into pens. Needless to say, the creatures don’t respond well, their every kick and exhortation thick with agitated aggression.

Just as significant in the filmmaker’s desire to link horse and human before they even meet, when the film cuts to a Nevada prison counselor (Connie Britton) evaluating a new transfer who’s off-camera, we only hear the prisoner’s animalistic, unresponsive snorting. This is our introduction to Schoenaerts’ Roman, a barrel-chested, menacing and tight-lipped convict of many years trying to get out of isolation and into gen pop again, except, as he grunts to Britton, “I’m not good with people.” He’s barely communicable even with his own pregnant teenage daughter (Gideon Adlon, “Blockers”), whose stone-faced visits suggest that whatever put Roman behind bars for 12 years (the horrific details of which we learn later), forgiveness has been difficult, and parenting non-existent.

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“Outdoor maintenance” is where Roman finds himself, shoveling horse manure, until the sound of a buckskin’s furious kicking against the door of its sunless pen draws his attention. Schoenaerts’ eyes, simultaneously curious and wary, say it all: Is this inmate angrier than I am? Once accepted into the prison’s horse-training program under crusty administrator Myles (a full-throttle Bruce Dern), and guided through the process by genial fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell, “Mudbound”), Roman is forced to realize how much his unbridled rage prevents meaningful connection with others.

De Clermont-Tonnerre doesn’t shy from visually synching Roman’s breakthroughs with Marquis, the name he gives his ornery charge, with his own inner journey. After a lovely shot in which Marquis’s head silently, sensitively enters the frame to brush up against the dejected Roman — representing their first true bonding — she cuts to Roman inside the prison, at a window, the angle of which offers a reflection as bold as a mirror’s.

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The filmmaker is aware that she’s in Western territory, yet she judiciously deploys Ruben Impens’ (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”) textured cinematography, and the intimately boxy 1.66:1 aspect ratio, for classically mythic images only when they resonantly tweak the genre’s visual language: a line of men on horseback riding through a stunning landscape, for instance, accompanied only by a watchful prison vehicle.

And while she’s injected “The Mustang” with an appealingly non-judgmental depiction of penitentiary life, de Clermont-Tonnerre is less skillful breathing new life into certain prison-narrative tropes. The one vivid byproduct of a tepidly rendered subplot involving Roman’s threatening cellmate is that Schoenaerts, when required to unleash toxic masculine violence, is terrifyingly good at it. Thankfully he’s just a magnetic actor overall, keen to the ways the physicality of brutish men is sometimes made hopelessly awkward by the injection of emotional healing.

The horses magnificently do their part, too, as co-stars in this redemption saga, mostly because de Clermont-Tonnerre gives them plenty of screen time to be irritable, sad, manic, desperate, but also begrudging, friendly, spirited, and at peace. It says a lot about where “The Mustang” stands in the history of man-and-his-horse movies that when auction day arrives, and the camera pans across a line of changed prisoners sitting atop similarly becalmed, four-legged hardcases, I found myself scanning the horses’ faces to gauge what they were thinking.



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‘Ash Is Purest White’ Film Review: Jia Zhangke Unveils Another Thoughtful Epic About China’s Transformation

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

One of the ways Jia Zhangke has distinguished himself as both a leading Chinese filmmaker and a masterful director is that his images have the uncanny ability to encompass past, present, and future. Humanity fills his every frame, even if the most prominent visual element is a landscape. And when your subject is China — how a country and its people wrestle with massive shifts — it makes for a distinctly personal kind of epic, one that has put Jia in the front ranks of directors in the nearly 20 years since his youths-in-turmoil masterpiece, “Platform,” put him on the global stage.

That where we are/where we’ve been/where we’re going dynamic has, over his career, lent itself superbly to Jia’s fascination with triptych storytelling. With his latest film, the crime-romance “Ash Is Purest White” — once again spotlighting a superb performance by Zhao Tao, his longtime creative partner and wife  — Jia’s vision makes for a heady brew of love, loss, and loneliness over three-time frames that coincide with huge changes in China.

The movie opens with what appears to be documentary video footage of grim-faced citizens on a bus, and according to publicity materials, these are everyday moments Jia shot in the early 2000s that he says represent a past China. This video acts as a same-time prologue for our introduction to small-town gangster Bin (Liao Fan) and Qiao (Zhao), his cheerfully swaggering girlfriend. They’re the epitome of cool in their vice-flecked corner of traditional, provincial, coal-mining China — she shimmies in the club to “Y.M.C.A.” while he closes deals in the booth — until forces big (industrial change) and small (other hoodlums) threaten that bond, and their working-class community’s sense of cohesion.

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When Bin is attacked in the street by youthful rivals — a sequence Jia manages to make simultaneously real-world scary and John Woo-ecstatic — Qiao steps in to save him with a gun, but in doing so is arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. When she’s released, it is 2006, and what she discovers as she rides a ferry down the Yangtze River, along with the site of the impending Three Gorges Dam, are populations being displaced, and a changed, distant, callously adaptive Bin, a romantic gangster turned capitalist lackey.

Qiao, her features now hardened but her mindset no less canny or observant, enters survival mode, and Jia gets some breezy humor out of the ways she navigates the transformed society to her immediate benefit. (Her scam targeting wealthy men heading toward private rooms at a fancy restaurant is particularly delightful.) But we mostly sense that she’s adrift.

The world (in this case, China) is now seemingly larger and smaller to Qiao, with old desires being met under new systems, but that much more impersonal: the gambling hall replaced by a chamber of commerce, a mobster boyfriend’s loyalty morphed into empty ambition. Not that Qiao isn’t willing to give it all a shot. But when she encounters a traveler on the train with an entrepreneurial spiel about the new adventure tourism, the way their connection plays out is simultaneously funny, poignant, and heartbreaking.

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The last segment of “Ash Is Purest White” and its three-pointed saga brings Qiao to the present, back to her home province of Shanxi, and where she is reunited with Bin in the gambling hall that was once their stomping grounds. Now there’s a noticeable power shift and a harder edge to their relationship. This is Jia bringing all of his talents to bear as a chronicler of what looks familiar but is quite different, which is one way of saying that the cinematography by Eric Gautier (“Something In the Air”) is its own vivid asset in Jia’s quest to imbue each scene with a mindful sense of subtle, yet still undeniable change.

The director’s strength, however, is as always Zhao, whose face can share the frame with the vastness of a landscape, and still draws focus. She exquisitely articulates Qiao’s shift from connectedness to disillusionment and finally, alienation, with the effect so acute that you’d think “Ash Is Purest White” had been filmed across the same time 18-year period of its story.

It’s enough to leave a viewer thinking that her mesmerizing portrayals for Jia over the years are less like discrete character studies and more like chapters in the grandest composite portrait that cinema has yet seen of what it means to be human during a transformational epoch.



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‘The Aftermath’ Film Review: Keira Knightley Stars in a Post-War Romance Lacking in Passion

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From the wreckage of Allied-bombed Hamburg comes the post-World War II romantic triangle “The Aftermath,” and suddenly the problems of three little people amount to a hill of blah in this handsomely mounted, but hopelessly machine-pressed game of who are sacrificing more to escape the rubble of shattered desire and lingering grief.

Director James Kent’s adaptation of Rhidian Brook’s 2014 novel — about a ghost-like Germany, a broken British marriage, and the healing powers of a passionate thaw — has the unfortunate quality of a hot-blooded soap grafted onto rather than merged with a historical-political drama. The result exhibits little feel for how each genre’s particular needs might interfere with the other’s, or how the film’s trio of capable actors (Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Jason Clarke) might be properly utilized.

When one considers the cinematic legacy of post-war Germany sagas alive to the colorful simmer of one-time enemies in close quarters — Billy Wilder’s “A Foreign Affair,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix” — it makes the dashed potential of “The Aftermath” all the more frustrating.

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Early on, there’s promise in the thick, snowy air of polite discomfort coursing through Brook’s scenario. Arriving in Hamburg five months after the Allied victory, Rachael Morgan (Knightley) is eager to be reunited with husband Lewis (Clarke), a conscientious British colonel overseeing a defeated, devastated city’s reconstruction. With the tragic loss of their son during a London bombing raid still a fresh memory, Rachael finds it disconcerting that in requisitioning a grand estate on the banks of the Elbe for them to live in, the charitably-minded Lewis insists its owner-architect, Stefan Lubert (Skarsgård), a war widower, and his aggrieved teenaged daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann), remain as tenants, albeit in the attic.

Rachael does her stiff-upper-lip best to play nice around the gracious if glum Stefan, but she’s suspicious, quick to believe the gossip from a fellow military wife (Kate Phillips, “Peaky Blinders”) that any outline of a removed painting in a German house — like the one prominently featured in the Luberts’ — surely must have held a portrait of Hitler.

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But as with conquered cities, dividing a house into foreign zones, no matter how well-intentioned, can turn boundaries into alluring points of trespass. With the intimacy-challenged Lewis routinely called away, almost overeager to play do-gooder for a displaced populace, Rachael is left to find a connection with the sensitive, artistic German upstairs who mourns like her and who looks good chopping wood. (Yes, there’s actually a scene in which she stares at him from a window.) And Stefan, having noticed the chill between his new landlords, is only too happy to address his own loneliness by breaking the growing sexual tension.

Fair enough, as potboilers go. Why, then, does “The Aftermath” always blandly signal its every development, rather than put you in sync with its characters’ percolating feelings? The screenplay, credited to Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (“Race”), and author Brook, is too bogged down with uninspired dialogue (“What is it you want from me?”) and clichéd set-ups (bandaging a wound, really?). Subsequently, the heart can never truly race for either the adultery or a flabby side story involving a guerrilla insurgency among displaced Nazi youth, a plot element that seems to exist only to make up in contrived endangerment what the main love story lacks in sexual peril.

But even outside the gravitas-challenged drama, director Kent — who tackled matters of heart related to the Great War in the better “Testament of Youth” — can’t find a way to showcase the Lubert estate as a visually evocative representation of the characters’ emotional states beyond Sonja Klaus’s (“Taboo”) tasteful old world-meets-modern production design. When you throw in pacing that offers no surprises, the well-appointed cinematography from Franz Lustig (“How I Live Now”) suffers as a result; no shadow-filled indoor scene or weather-driven outdoor shot feels wrong but put together, they don’t add up to a cinematic vision of any meaningful intensity.

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The cast is ultimately let down, too, by the lack of directorial verve. Knightley and Skarsgård are a serviceable pair of circle-then-pounce lovers, but their opposites-attracting coupling is hardly cathartic. And in the wake of costume-drama queen Knightley’s revelatory turn shaking up a marriage with wit and spice in last year’s “Colette,” the part of Rachael here is something of a cookie-cutter comedown. Clarke, meanwhile, struggles with a typically thankless role and isn’t done any favors with how his feelings breakthrough is handled in the final act — like the ticking of a box for the remaining emotional strands.

World War II remains such a tempting milieu for filmmakers interested in the classic pleasures of a grandly scaled, era-specific entertainment — whether history-driven (“Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour”) or spectacle-infused (“Allied,” “Hacksaw Ridge”) — that you wonder if soft entries like “The Aftermath” are merely satisfied to be the B team: atmospheric but not immersive, attractively cast but unmessy, and fine with touching on a moment in time instead of dealing with it. In its aim to primarily push the buttons of romance fans, “The Aftermath” comes off, regrettably, like a period widget.



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‘Untogether’ Film Review: Jemima Kirke Plays a Struggling Writer In Frank, Fresh Un-Rom-Com

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Authenticity of experience, and the pitfalls of its allure, are at the heart of writer-director Emma Forrest’s debut feature “Untogether,” a tart, compelling romantic snarl about the iffy relationships a pair of tensely supportive sisters — played by real-life sibs Jemima Kirke and Lola Kirke — have with a couple of emotionally challenged men played by Jamie Dornan and Ben Mendelsohn.

A showbiz-adjacent story set in tucked-away hills of Los Angeles that become a neurosis-wallowing refuge for its quartet of characters, “Untogether” at its chill, observant best resembles what a left coast, smart-satiric-serious kind of romantic comedy might look like going forward as we wean ourselves of the influence a certain bespectacled, controversial New York comic auteur has had over the genre for decades.

When we meet Andrea (Jemima Kirke) and Nick (Dornan), they’re engaged in some amusingly uneven sex indicative of their respective positions in life: he’s a hotshot doctor whose time in the Middle East inspired a bestselling memoir of doomed romance, whose post-coital power move is to say things like, “You’re not going to get obsessed with me, are you?” She’s an acid-witted onetime writing prodigy and recovering addict years from her brief burst of authorial fame, and living with her younger massage therapist sister Tara (Lola Kirke) while she figures it all out.

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Andrea (who sports pink hair and a meticulous vintage-apparel look) and the blasé Nick grasp that theirs is an elongated fling with potential, but as long as Nick enjoys his notoriety and Andrea struggles to stave off self-destruction and invite creativity back in, periodic trysts — usually spiced up by her dancing for him — will have to do.

Tara’s battle, on the other hand, is between waning interest in her older boyfriend Martin (Mendelsohn), an Australian rock singer who left Down Under stardom behind to to be with her in LA, and newfound curiosity in her never-cultivated Jewishness. The latter is sparked by one of her customers, an activist rabbi (Billy Crystal) who charms Tara into attending services at his progressive temple.

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As this storyline plays out — with Crystal in fine form blending comic timing and mentor-ish sincerity, and Jennifer Grey hovering watchfully as Crystal’s wife — it becomes patently obvious where the psychological fault lines are in Tara’s approach to her religious conversion. But it’s still an amusing take on the escape-route mentalities of the romantically disillusioned.

One’s rooting interest in the primary foursome — as “Untogether” unspools, opens wounds, and spills one character’s big secret — is always threatened, however, by a nagging sense that Forrest assumes her own fascination with her desperate souls will naturally be yours, too. The truth is that nobody here is especially likable, but Forrest at least has a knack for mining a given thorny situation — Andrea crashing a fancy book party, Tara’s awkwardness as a new temple-goer, a humiliating turn of events for Nick — for not just an illuminatingly off-center barb or reactive one-liner, but also the unexpected sensitivity that takes us inside someone’s pain.

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The cast does its part to keep everyone’s defensive prickliness within the realm of interesting, particularly “Girls” alumna Jemima Kirke – hers is a tricky portrayal of bruised smarts, a solid leap after graduating from the HBO show — and Mendelsohn, who late in the film nails both an initially nervous, then freeing club performance with his reunited two-hit-wonder band and the complicated feelings afterwards. Though it’s millennial angst that drives the Andrea/Tara trajectories, Mendelsohn’s portrait of midlife fragility is a strong coloring in “Untogether.” Much like the shrewd casting of real-life sisters to play on-camera siblings, Forrest’s understanding of Mendelsohn’s gifts comes with family history: the actor is also her ex-husband.

But is it also noteworthy, perhaps, to point out that one of the more unusually refreshing pleasures in “Untogether” is that its leads all act in their native accents, from the soft Irish lilt of Dornan’s delivery (this wooden “Fifty Shades” star’s best turn in a while) to Mendelsohn’s laidback Aussie-ness? Even the Kirkes’ accents reflect their own situation: Jemima’s vinegary voice reflects her mostly British early upbringing, while Lola’s betrays someone who’s lived in America a lot longer than her sister has. Forrest’s decision to forego ubiquitous American tongues for the naturalness of what her actors already have to offer acts, oddly enough, as an appropriate undercurrent to her movie’s own interest in characters revealing who they really are in order to move forward.



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‘Arctic’ Film Review: Mads Mikkelsen Versus Nature Makes for Bracing Thriller

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Atmosphere-driven survival sagas have been on something of a roll lately, what with the new cinematic physicality that has turned the vastness of space (“Gravity”), another planet (“The Martian”) and the sea (“All Is Lost”) into arenas for both great acting and the most immersive kind of experiential distress.

The forbidding emptiness of an icy wasteland had to be next, and for that we have Brazilian filmmaker Joe Penna to thank. Penna’s feature debut “Arctic” casts Mads Mikkelsen as a pilot stranded in the titular tundra, battling the elements, loneliness, and a high-risk effort to save his own life and another’s. And though it’s not anything new in terms of dramatic representation, in its solidly visceral execution — stressing a belief in filmmaking’s basic tools of storytelling that’s almost refreshing — it earns its place among the genre’s stalwarts. You will believe a man can freeze.

“Arctic” is Penna’s aim for movie cred after establishing himself as a flashy YouTube sensation with everything from spunky music videos to sci-fi shorts (one of which was produced by Ron Howard). Starting one’s feature career with a nearly dialogue-less journey across an unforgiving landscape may not sound like the most thrilling of calling cards, but from the movie’s earliest bids for your attention (a close-up that shows one thing until a wide shot cleverly reveals all, or a cryptic action explained by a later situation that necessitates it again), it’s obvious Penna thinks like an architect as often as he does an entertainer. We could stand to have more spectacles with his thoughtful sense of craft.

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At the same time, though, Penna and his writing collaborator Ryan Morrison are happy to jettison dramatic tropes we’ve become accustomed to or, maybe to his line of thinking, bored by. When we meet Mikkelsen’s character, he’s already well-ensconced as a stranded pilot with a daily routine that includes distress-signaling, ice fishing, fiddling with some rocks, eating his catch, and sleeping in his downed plane. But we don’t get a backstory, ever. With “Arctic,” we’re truly in the realm of what’s in front of us, and in front of Overgård (we do get a name, thanks to a patch on his jacket).

Fixed-camera perspectives of the immensity of white and grey around him are such that when they’re broken by a wandering polar bear far in the distance — the likely culprit occasionally raiding his stores of trout — the feeling is a uniquely complicated one of competitiveness, acknowledgement that creatures can live out here, and, naturally, fear.

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Though “Arctic” avoids existential monologues detailing its lead’s past (we never even find out what he was doing flying across the Arctic in the first place), we do get what amounts to maybe the ideal way to reveal character: what Overgård does not just to save himself, but also to help someone else who’s worse off. When relief from the appearance of a rescue helicopter is quickly shattered by its sudden crashing, Overgård rushes to discover two pilots, one dead, and one (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) horribly wounded.

With unblinking tenacity, fueled partly by the thrill of scarfing down something other than fish (uncooked noodles), Overgård transports the immobilized survivor and the pair’s provisions back to his camp so he can nurse her back to health. No name is given for the young woman, who speaks no English, just a photograph of her with a man and child, which Overgård gingerly places so she can see it, a gesture so quietly moving it nearly surpasses the heartbreaking moment that just preceded it: Overgård’s eyes briefly closing in a hurried clench as he lays her down in his plane. It’s a stolen hug within a gesture of deepest caring for a total stranger, almost as if her mere presence were saving him from wretched solitude.

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From there, thanks to a brave idea and a sleigh, it’s a journey of punishing fortitude and decisiveness, one that presents altruism as an element of survival as important, if not more so, than ingenuity or endurance. Overgård (a maybe too on-the-nose name) also proves to be the ideal role for Mikkelsen, who finally has an environment to match his magnetically chilly presence. Though it’s a given that we always search out his nobly melancholic eyes for what Overgård is feeling, he handles the crushing physicality of Penna’s scenario — whether threatened by wind, frost, terrain, or that bear — like an action movie pro.

Just don’t confuse “Arctic” with “Polar,” Mikkelsen’s other cold-brewed title this month, currently streaming on Netflix. That one’s soulless, kill-crazy hitman trash unworthy of its star. Only “Arctic” has the do-or-die chops to affirm Mikkelsen’s rugged allure, as well as its young filmmaker’s sensitive-showman promise.



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