CAST: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole, Charles Dance, Heida Reed, Ed Speleers, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Diarmaid Murtagh, Frankie Wilson, Sam Redford, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Nick Jameson
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins
BASICALLY…: In 1909, Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Coster-Waldau) and an inexperienced mechanic (Cole) sleds across the icy Greenland landscape for a dangerous mission…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
While it remains a reasonably obscure mark in 20th century exploration history, Denmark’s early-1900s expedition was a major gain for the Danes; the so-called “Denmark Expedition” was an effort to disprove American claim to a patch of broken-away land in Greenland, undertaken by a group of Danish explorers venturing to the icy realm and recording evidence that, in fact, there was no broken-off land and that all of it was pure Greenland. Think of the endeavour as a Scott of the Antarctic-type adventure with far more European flavour, which director Peter Flinth and star/co-writer Nikolaj Coster-Waldau certainly did with their feature Against The Ice, while also throwing in some hardcore survivalist stuff this side of The Revenant for equal measure.
The result is a fairly decent, if streamlined, dramatization of events that has plenty of intriguing adventure and survival movie qualities, which are occasionally undone by some formulaic screenwriting methods which feel somewhat out of place.
We begin in 1909, as a new Danish expedition – led by Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Coster-Waldau) – has travelled to the icy landscapes of Greenland to search for remains of the ill-fated Denmark Expedition, specifically anything that can prove once and for all that Greenland is all one piece of land. Mikkelsen makes the bold decision to venture out and recover that all-important evidence, but of his small crew, only one of them – inexperienced young mechanic Iver Iversen (Joe Cole) – is naïve enough to volunteer as Mikkelsen’s right-hand man during the voyage. Packed with limited supplies and an army of sled dogs, the two men eventually set out to recover the lost documents, only to soon fall prey to the harsh and unforgiving sub-zero environment, which tests both of them to the brink of their own physicality and sanity.
There is a neat old-fashioned charm to this movie, as it is structured, performed and even framed like it’s the kind of grand adventure movie that would have been made back in the 50s or 60s, albeit with crispier digital cinematography capturing the endless terrain of ice. Since we are also placed with only two main characters for most of the movie, the scope of drama is neatly contained and focused enough to deliver some watchable scenes between a pair of actors who share good chemistry with each other, and shine as individuals as well. Both Coster-Waldau and Cole do well at making you want to see their characters survive, as their easy charisma and likeability does carry so much of the film, which would have otherwise seemed like such an empty (but undeniably pretty) experience. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to kill off anyone or anything that either you or the lead characters form a strong attachment to (those poor dogs playing the sled hounds; from their perspective, this is very much a slasher film!), adding to the real sense of danger lurking behind every frame.
However, as things plod towards its second half, conventionality begins to settle in. We begin getting some unnecessary aside scenes set back in Denmark with Charles Dance as a disgruntled politician (which does feel like Coster-Waldau simply looked through his Game of Thrones rolodex and called up his former co-star to do him a small favour), while events in the third act take an odd turn as it begins introducing themes and motifs that exist only in lame first-draft student projects. At one point, it actually does turn into The Revenant as characters will suddenly be attacked by CGI bears, only the effect is far less terrifying and more unintentionally funny due to both how awkwardly the graphics on this bear look, and also how by the end it becomes this serial killer that stalks our heroes outside their safe huts like it’s Jason Voorhees. Not all of it works, unfortunately, and it feels even more mismatched when they’re placed in between some very emotional scenes where these actors are clearly going to some dark places in order to get the most effective reactions.
In the end, Against The Ice is watchable enough, but given the interesting subject matter as well as the real sense of adventure and dread clouding every snowy frame, it’s disappointing that it isn’t much better than it is. Instead, it’s something you can switch on for an unchallenging slice of entertainment, root for these characters in their life-or-death scenarios, and then once it’s over you switch it off and go on about your day without thinking back on it. It’s serviceable, sure, but not nearly as enthralling as it perhaps should have been.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Against The Ice is a watchable adventure/survival story that is anchored by two capable lead performances from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joe Cole, but some overly conventional writing and a handful of silly moments hamper it from reaching its full potential.