Peter Finth’s chilly Arctic drama features some stunning scenery but ultimately proves an underwhelming watch.
With the popularity of exciting, high-profile TV fare such as The Terror and The North Water, dramatic Arctic expeditions are having something of an on-screen purple patch. It’s a slight shame then that Against the Ice is well-intentioned and occasionally gripping but overall somewhat flat.
It’s 1910 on board Danish ship the Alabama when buccaneering captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) asks his crew for a volunteer. Two years earlier, fellow Dane Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen left a note confirming or denying the existence of the Peary Channel buried in a cairn hundreds of miles into the north-east of Greenland. If the channel does exist, Greenland is actually two land masses, with the northern part then apparently belonging to America. If it doesn’t, the area belongs to Denmark. Quite why men were willing to risk their lives over a freezing, unliveable wilderness is – unlike Greenland – never significantly explored.
Eventually Arctic novice and mechanic Iver Iversen (Joe Cole) volunteers. After some lame on-board bants about how the captain will not suffer Iversen’s foolishness gladly, the unlikely pair set off with two sleds and packs of dogs promising to arrive by August. Somewhat ominously, Iver is warned that to make his sled faster he may have to shoot one unlucky canine and feed it to the others.
It’s predictably tough going due to perilous conditions, gruff Mikkelsen’s refusal to make banal small talk and the loss of their lead dog off a cliff because of Iversen’s inexperience. When they reach Mylius-Erichsen’s note there is cause for mild cheer but, of course, they have to make it back before summer ends and their ship sails. When they finally arrive sans dogs and sleds (having burned the latter to keep warm), they find their crew have been rescued but have made two huts from remnants of the Alabama, implying they’ll send a search party. Somewhat ridiculously, Mikkelsen left Mylius-Erichsen’ note in the cairn but decides they should retrieve it as proof of their findings.
They make the trip again and upon returning find a note from the search party tasked with finding them that has been and gone. While they wait for another rescue Mikkelsen hallucinates while imagining speaking and dancing with Naja (Heida Reed), the woman he left at home. These scenes feel superfluous, though interludes in Denmark where we see stern Danish Minister Niels Neergaard (Charles Dance) refusing to financing a rescue have a touch of bite.
To punctuate the trudge through the snow there’s one great sequence where a bear attacks Mikkelsen and is shot dead by newly pugnacious Iversen, only for the bear to fall on Mikkelsen and send both man and bear crashing through the ice. It’s a real moment of gripping tension in a film with far too few of them. Coster-Waldau and Cole offer reliably solid performances while director Peter Finth’s use of Iceland’s stunning topography as a Greenland stand-in is effective. But ultimately it’s a film viewers will scroll past and back to choose with a shrug when they can’t anything that looks more fun on Netflix (it arrives on the streamer in March).
Join our community of film lovers and support our independent journalismBecome a member
Published 17 Feb 2022
Michael Koch’s drama about an Alpine couple whose lives are changed by a devastating medical diagnosis proves a frustrating watch.
A documentary master presents an updated portrait of the USA, drawing on his previous version first released in 1975.