Tag Archives: Mads Mikkelsen

King’s Ransom

The Promised Land

by George Wolf

Just going by its trailer, you might not expect The Promised Land to have much in common with Saltburn, but the similar themes are there. So while there’s no shocking bathwater here – or much bathing at all – there is a sweeping historical epic of one man’s quest for social climbing.

The man is Ludvig von Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen), a longtime captain in the German army who returns home to Denmark in 1755. Desiring both wealth and honor, he visits the court of King Frederik V with a promise to bring the King what no one else has managed to deliver: settlements on the Danish heath.

Ludvig promises to tame the barren land in exchange for a noble title, a manor and some servants. And to seal the deal, Ludvig will finance the farming project with his own military pension.

Battling the elements and the roaming outlaws will be tough enough, but Ludvig also must face the wrath of sadistic county judge De Schinkel (Simon Beenebjerg), who wants to claim the land as his own and make good on his promise to Ludvig that “life is chaos.”

Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel adapts Ida Jessen’s historical novel as a harrowing tale that consistently reveals new layers throughout its two compelling hours.

Mikkelsen – teaming again with Arcel after 2020’s terrific Riders of Justice – is perfection as the battle-tested soldier with steely-eyed dreams of nobility. Ludvig’s arc plays out patiently, but as the Captain takes in two runaway peasant farmers (Amanda Collin, Morten Hee Anderson), a well-meaning pastor (Gustav Lindh) and an unwanted child (Melina Hagberg), Mikkelsen ensures the awakened humanity feels well-earned and real.

And Arcel keeps the stakes rising to thrilling effect. Cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk’s majestic frames serve and volley with the twists of the screenplay to mine drama that can be as subtle as a framed patch of dirt or as overt as the triangle that springs from Schinkel’s intended fiancée Edel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) eyeing Ludvig as the man who can save her.

What price ambition? It remains an intriguing question, whether you’re surrounding it with delicious ultra-modern pulp or re-imagining true events from hundreds of years past. The Promised Land takes the road less adorned, forging a rousing tale of savagery, revenge and fulfillment that will not be denied.

Dead Horses and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

by Hope Madden

After much delay, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore comes to big screens this weekend. The film is the needless third installment in a 5-part series based on a single 2001 guidebook that walked readers through the various magical animals of the Harry Potter universe. The guidebook’s “author” is Newt Scamander, and Harry Potter has jotted notes throughout it.

That’s it. No narrative, no characters, really. It’s like a little, pretend textbook from Hogwarts.

The book was a semi-adorable cash grab — one additional little scrap to throw the hungry Harry-heads at the height of Pottermania — meant to raise money for charity. And now it’s a planned 5-part series, each installment thus far clocking in at well over two hours.


The new adventure catches up with Newt (Eddie Redmayne) assembling a ragtag band of witches, wizards and muggles to help mentor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) fight the dark magic of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen).

Grindelwald hates muggles (non-magical losers like us) and wants a war. He’ll deceive, bully, appeal to baser instincts, and when it comes down to it, cheat the election to take over the wizarding world.

It’s a good guys v bad guys tale with loads of Trumpian nods (keep an eye on that newspaper), but that feels hollow given creator/co-writer J.K. Rowling’s history of bullying vulnerable populations. A main role for the recently shameful Ezra Miller (who plays forlorn baddie Credence Barebone) doesn’t help those optics, either.

As superficial spin goes, though, it is nice to have Mikkelsen on board. He replaces Johnny Depp (easily the best thing about the previous installment) as the film’s villain. Where Depp embraced the magical elements and leaned into camp, Mikkelsen is all elegant, understated menace.

The cast boasts a lot of solid, wasted talent. Law continues to charm as the unflappable Dumbledore, Redmayne’s quirk tests patience, Dan Fogler’s a bright spot.

Director David Yates — who directed four HP movies as well as the previous two installments in this franchise — struggles this go-round to even conjure much visual panache to distract from the bloated, overpopulated and underdeveloped script.

Rowling co-writes for the screen again with Steve Kloves, her scripting partner for every Potter and Fantastic Beasts installment. The Potter films often suffered from unimaginative adaptation, which could be chalked up to the writers’ tough time pruning the source material.

No idea what’s to blame here, but these movies are not getting any better.

Jens Wick

Riders of Justice

by Matt Weiner

Men will single-handedly gun down an entire biker gang rather than go to therapy.

That’s the premise from prolific writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, where he reunites with Mads Mikkelsen in the dark comic revenge fantasy Riders of Justice.

At least I think this was dark comedy. Mikkelsen stars as Markus, an accomplished soldier who has to return from active duty to take care of his daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife dies in a freak train accident.

Or was it an accident? Fellow survivor Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), an out-of-work programmer, is convinced that he can prove the accident was the work of notorious Danish biker gang the Riders of Justice. He brings in friends and fellow IT outcasts, the extroverted Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and the perpetually bullied Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro).

Together, the trio enlists the help of Markus as their agent of justice, using a mix of tactics both morally dubious (computer hacking) and sociopathic (Markus quickly amasses a body count that John Wick would envy).

What starts as a straightforward revenge story quickly goes off the rails, but always in truly weird, delightful ways. The violence, once it starts, is swift and brutal. Mikkelsen removes all traces of warmth as the short-fused Markus, with Otto and his friends instead shouldering most of the comedy.

But Jensen isn’t nearly as interested in the physical mayhem as the emotional wreckage his oddball characters are all coping with. Whether it’s Markus and Mathilde working out what it means to be a family with just each other, or Otto and friends learning that not every search for meaning can be solved mathematically, Riders of Justice treats its characters with such forgiving empathy that it’s easy to forget that the group is also almost certainly responsible for the most murders in Denmark since the Vikings.

There’s a moment in the film, while everyone is trying to make sense of their own losses, when someone points out that “Unless you die at a young age, you will end up burying most of the people you love.” It’s hard to imagine a line like that coming up at any point in the Taken franchise. And yet for Riders of Justice, it’s just another observation—punctuated with a bullet, sure, but also a strong commitment to its own madcap existential vision.

Cold Comfort


by George Wolf

Arctic is a survival film that wastes no time getting to the survival.

Director/co-writer Joe Penna drops us somewhere in the Arctic Circle long enough after a place crash that lone survivor Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) has had time to construct a makeshift camp. We get no backstory, no thrilling crash effects and no time to assess the situation, which is perfect on two fronts.

1) The situation is pretty damn clear, and 2) so are the film’s unflinching parameters. There’ll be no spoon-feeding here, are you in or are you out?

Mikkelsen is all in, with a supremely committed performance full of both strength and vulnerability. In a film that’s nearly dialog-free, Mikkelsen sparks a curiosity about his character that the film is in no hurry to indulge. Overgård is clearly meticulous and intelligent, cautious and resourceful, but it is after an early rescue attempt goes awry that Mikkelsen delivers the layers of humanity that add an ethereal beauty to the sterile, potentially deadly climate.

Suddenly, there is the safety of a badly injured woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) to consider. As Overgård weighs the options of waiting for another rescue or striking out on foot, Mikkelson excels in making the emotional weight authentic, along with some simple joys that come from supplies found in the woman’s downed helicopter.

While it might be tempting to label this a snow-covered Castaway, the experience is closer to Robert Redford’s 2013 vehicle All is Lost. In his feature debut, Penna displays majestic wide-angle vistas without any photographic glamour that might betray what Overgård is up against. In trimming away all excess narrative, he immerses you only in the often gut-wrenching journey.

The result is never less than believable, a no muss, plenty of frigid fuss endurance tale that feels real.

And real cold.