AGAINST THE ICE (2022), a new Netflix movie which hails from Iceland and Denmark, is a solid, deliberately paced historical drama based on the true story of two men braving the icy wilderness of Greenland as they try to lay claim of the territory for Denmark.
It’s 1909, and explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is leading an expedition into Greenland to disprove the United States’ claims that Greenland is not one piece of land, and that its northern tip is separated by a body of water. The Americans have been trying to claim this northern land as its own. If Mikkelsen can prove that this is not true, that it is only one large piece of land, then Greenland in its entirety would belong to Denmark.
His most trusted explorer injured, Captain Mikkelsen seeks a volunteer to accompany him on the treacherous journey to the north of Greenland, but the only crew member who is willing to do so is the inexperienced Iver Iversen (Joe Cole) who’s a mechanic by trade and not an explorer. With no other options, Mikkelsen and Iversen set out with two dog sleds and promise to return to the ice bound ship and its crew in six months.
It’s a harrowing journey, and the two men both rely on each other and learn from each other, as Mikkelsen provides the determined unrelenting leadership to keep them going, while Iversen proves adept at fixing things both mechanical and psychological, as his upbeat attitude and humor keeps things sane. And it’s a journey that becomes much longer than expected when they return to their ship and discover they have been abandoned.
AGAINST THE ICE is a solid, well-made movie that remains rooted in drama rather than adventure and thrills. Everything is rather low key, which works in a way, as the tone of the film captures the tone of the two men, especially Mikkelsen. Director Peter Flinth isn’t going to win any Oscars here. His direction is rather pedestrian, but it works. It’s never all that intense, and it’s definitely a PG-13 style movie rather than an R rated one. Things like the removal of frost-bitten toes, the execution of sled dogs for meat, and a vicious polar bear attack are all handled peripherally, and none of these sequences are as horrific as they could have been.
The icy scenery is beautiful to behold, and it helps that the film used minimal CGI effects and was largely shot on location in Iceland and Greenland. Forgive this horror writer, but when the movie opens and we see an ice bound ship in which the crew spies a mysterious stranger approaching on a dog sled from across the ice, I couldn’t help but think I was watching the opening to a new version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Likewise, with all the snow and ice blowing around, I half expected to see Kurt Russell and friends arrive from John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982)!
Nikolaj Costner-Waldau stars as Ejnar Mikkelsen, and he plays the explorer as a man who is both coldly determined yet responsible. He pushes the expedition to the limits, but he rarely puts Iverson’s life in danger. Costner-Waldau turns things up a notch later when Mikkelsen struggles to keep his mind together and begins to hallucinate about the woman he’s left behind. Costner-Waldau is known for his portrayal of Jaime Lannister on the TV series GAME OF THRONES (2011-2019).
Joe Cole is equally as good as Iver Iversen, the man who at the beginning of the movie talks about how he’d rather be working on the Titanic, an amazing new ship that will never sink. Of course, at that time, the Titanic hadn’t sunk yet, which sets up one of the more humorous lines in the movie, when after their ordeal, Iversen tells Mikkelsen that the Titanic went and sunk, meaning he made the right choice by joining the captain on his journey.
I enjoyed these two characters a lot, and aside from the topnotch snowy photography, the performances by Nikolaj Costner-Waldau and Joe Cole are the best parts of the movie.
The rest of the cast is fine. Charles Dance shows up briefly to add some distinguished authority as the Danish leader who wants to finance a rescue mission because he knows its value but continually resists the requests for one since the costs are so high. Incidentally, Dance played the father of Costner-Waldau’s character on GAME OF THRONES.
In addition to playing the lead role, Nikolaj Costner-Waldau also co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Derrick, based on a book by Ejnar Mikkelsen. So, yes, Mikkelsen was not only an explorer but also an author. The script is a good one. It tells its story without any frills, doesn’t sensationalize any of the proceedings, but also doesn’t strive to really draw in its audience in any other way than the straight telling of its narrative.
I enjoyed AGAINST THE ICE, but it definitely plays more like a TV movie than a theatrical release. Still, its story of two men’s journey into the icy wilderness of Greenland held my interest throughout, even if the most satisfying emotional moment in the story doesn’t come until the film’s final minutes.
All in all, AGAINST THE ICE is a satisfying historical drama that tells a worthwhile tale of determination and perseverance.
Just don’t be surprised if while watching it you find yourself reaching for that extra blanket and perhaps even a hat and gloves. Brr!