Director: Espen Sandberg
Starring:Pal Sverre Hagen, Christian Rubeck, Katherine Waterston, Trond Espen Seim .Norway/UK. 2h 5m
Every explorer deserves some kind of detailed recognition of their sacrifices for their “art” and this sentimental epic really touches on the sacrifices made by Roald Amundsen, the first man to arrive at the South Pole.
From a historical perspective there’s a lot missing and a few facts that have been replaced by nurtured cinematography rather than being 100% factual, however the overall sentiment and gratitude from director Espen Sandberg is firmly stamped on every scene.
Skipping backwards and forwards through the timeline and friendship of two ambitious brothers, Roald (Hagen) and Leon (Rubeck) Amundsen, we see them grow apart as one becomes an entrepreneur and the other risks everything to become the first man to do many things including conquering the South Pole among other icy adventures which takes him away from his family for years at a time.
Hagen isn’t a stranger to playing world famous adventure, as he previously played Tor Heyerdahl in Kon Tiki (2012) also directed by Sandberg so with that under their belt this should have been a more illustrious project but it has a lazy meandering about it, searching through many avenues to make build it’s points about the great man.
Strangely with Roald spending years on the ice living life on the edge and Rubeck spending more of his time in comfortable chairs telling the story of his brother’s life (despite not spending much of it with him but having lots of letters) the two manage to share the leading role. When they do share screen time together a lot of their pensvice stares and and strained emotional glances tell the deepest tale of their strained relationship, but Roald remains a loveable adventure, always looking for something new on the horizon and with all the best intentions in his heart, while his stuffy brother just seems to anger himself for no reason.
At times Amundsen feels like a TV version of the Terror, men with ruddy faces struggling against the ice, polar bears searching for food and the eminent dangers of thin ice and a terrain which is alien to the teams that leads to a few hair raising moments but most of the film is played out in ceremonial halls and award ceremonies, the places where Amundsen most hated to be but revived his drive to be back out in the elements.
Espen Sandberg really excels with condensing a life of adventure into a couple of hours, slowly, as we see the man age and we can really appreciate what he did in his lifetime and the painful sacrifices he had to make to live his dream.
I must admit then if anyone mentions arctic exploration I immediately think of Scott, so this as a memento for an often overlooked historical figure, it’s a brave movie made in his honour and as biographies go it’s fairly comprehensive and attempts to explain the complicated mechanics behind an adored and rare man.
It’s definitely lacking some of the energy of a bigger production, it feels as if it just meanders through some of the biggest moments and rarely details the action and horror that happened on the ice, but it has this real charm in how it handles the drama, where Espen Sandberg leaves it to the caliber of it’s two very strong leading men who are vastly commanding.
It could have gone either way, with playing on the vast journeys and perils on the ice or rummaging through the politics behind the costly escapades, but Amundsen tilters on the edge of both but never really dives too deeply for fear of not being a complete journey.
Related: The Terror (2018), Kon Tiki (2012), Troubled Water (2008), Cold Prey 2 (2008)
Lists: Arctic Thrillers