“Against the Ice” delivers all the delirious period drama thrills and survival horror angst that you could want from a movie with that title. Within a very short amount of time, Coster-Waldau and Joe Derrick set up their story—an adaptation of Arctic explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen’s memoir Two Against the Ice—as the sort of grisly and high-toned boy’s adventure story where the worst can and probably will happen, especially when you’re expecting it.
Coster-Waldau plays Mikkelsen, the haunted sea captain who leads poor naïve mechanic Iver Iversen (Joe Cole) on a perilous journey to a cairn (or a “a stack of stones one can see from far away,” as one character helpfully explains) far away from their ship, the Alabama, and its crew. Buried within this cairn is a written record of the last Danish expedition’s findings. That prized document suggests, in no uncertain terms, that Danish explorers, and not the American adventurer Robert Peary, had already discovered Greenland’s Northern-most border, which in turn suggests that the US “has no claim” in the Arctic, as Mikkelsen explains to Iversen.
You might be wondering how or why proving this extremely particular claim might be the goal for a Arctic-set action-adventure about two men who must kill a sled dog or two in order to survive. Derrick and Coster-Waldau immediately develop viewers’ expectations through campy and economic dialogue, like when another explorer warns Iversen that he should not befriend the dogs because sometimes, if worst comes to worst, you must “shoot the worst dog” and “feed it to the others.” Soon afterwards, Iversen heedlessly opines that “Once you learn to trust your lead dog, it all kind of falls into place.”
That sort of glaringly ironic declaration might put you on edge well before the first dog-related incident. You might also be hooked and/or desperate to stop watching after the brutally unsensational second incident, which adds a hilariously foreboding edge to even innocent-seeming dialogue exchanges, like when Mikkelsen says that “Denmark will thank you one day, Iver Iversen” and then announces, after they find the cairn they’re looking for, that they’re headed back to the Alabama and then off to “home sweet home.” This is well before icicles settle into Iversen and Mikkelsen’s beards. After that, they bond like normal turn-of-the-century men by talking about their first sexual experiences or whether they’d ever consider cannibalism (Spoiler alert: they would).