Against The Ice’s viewing experience is a bit like the expedition on which it is based; quite a few significant highs almost dominated by long, drawn-out lows that ultimately result in the film being a bit of a trek.
This review of the Netflix film Against the Ice does not contain spoilers.
The film follows two explorers, Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and Iver Iversen (Joe Cole), as they set off on a discovery expedition in an ice-covered Greenland, only to find that it marks the start of a fight for survival that spans years when they are abandoned by their crew.
Right from the start, Against the Ice pulls no punches when it comes to showcasing the brutality nature is capable of. One can never be under any illusions about how unforgiving that kind of landscape is now, let alone over one hundred years ago when explorers went without anything like the technology and equipment available today. When you take everything into consideration, the story this is based on really is remarkable. If only it could’ve been retold in a way that did it greater justice.
Against the Ice is a film that couldn’t have consisted of two more different halves if it had tried. On the one hand, you have an account of this extraordinary expedition undertaken by just two men that were surely only ever to be a one-way trip given the conditions and the approach that the leader took, which was that failure was never even tabled as an option. Then, on the other hand, there’s also this… study, almost… into the mental and physical will to survive when hope is all but lost. Now, it’s not that Against the Ice should’ve neglected either of these elements, but it struck me as a bizarre move to keep them both so separate. In the end, it was like I was watching a double-feature, and both sides lost out as a result.
The initial expedition was very rushed; I couldn’t believe that that part of the story was wrapped up so early on in the film’s runtime. I would’ve liked to have seen more of how the camaraderie grew between both Ejnar and Iver as they were such a perfectly mismatched pair of individuals. There were glimpses, but in terms of defining moments for their relationship, there was very little to be seen. Against the Ice’s foray into the more psychological elements was the exact opposite, however, in that it became a chapter of the film that felt very overdrawn, and also appeared out of nowhere when you think that the mental toll of such a trip wasn’t so much as flirted with prior to its very sudden arrival later on.
What I can say for that part of the film is that the performances in that time were very good once you got past the mish-mash of accents, especially that of Coster-Waldau. Cabin fever really took hold of Ejnar as a result of having to live with the decisions he’d made and where they’d led him and his associate. Guilt and regret are not fun things to dance with at the best of times, but they make for dangerous bedfellows in already desperate circumstances, and that couldn’t have been portrayed more clearly.
One thing is for certain, and I suppose this is the most important factor — Ejnar Mikkelsen and Iver Iverson were phenomenal explorers, defying odds and making it through what should’ve been unsurvivable. I came away with a real admiration for Iverson in particular. He was so plucky and determined right from the start, but he wasn’t a natural explorer. He was an underdog in everyone’s eyes, but the characteristics he possessed seemed to ensure he was able to rise above challenges, and I dare say that by the end of the film, he was arguably the ultimate survivor.
Overall, Against the Ice is more than watchable, but exists in a space occupied by many films that could’ve been great had their pacing and focus been stronger. The lead performances are what make it worth sticking with, as well as the knowledge that whilst it may have been handled badly here, the film’s inspiration is an impressive feat by two adventurers, born or otherwise.
What did you think of the Netflix film Against the Ice? Comment below.