The Danish drama “The Promised Land” takes its old school remit with pleasurable seriousness. Set within the mid-18th century, it’s a basic story of haves and have-nots crammed with gristle and grit, limitless horizons, scenes of struggling, reversals of fortune and cathartic recognition. It has sweep, romance, violence and spectacle, however what makes it lastly work in addition to it does is that it largely avoids the ennobling clichés that flip characters into beliefs and films into workout routines in spurious nostalgia — nicely, that and Mads Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen stars as Capt. Ludvig Kahlen, a struggle veteran with little greater than a frayed uniform and a well-polished medal on his chest, who units out to domesticate the heath in Jutland, the peninsula that makes up most of Denmark. There, on an unlimited shrubby expanse thought untamable but beloved by the Danish monarch, Kahlen hopes to work the land and set up a settlement for king, nation and himself. Over time, as seasons change and guests come and go, he does simply that, constructing a brand new world and cultivating the bottom in a laborious, engrossing course of that the director Nikolaj Arcel charts with ease and gripping drama.
Written by Arcel and Anders Thomas Jensen, the well-paced story briskly takes Kahlen from the poorhouse to the royal palace minutes after opening, establishing the attain of his ambition. (The film relies on the novel “The Captain and Ann Barbara” from the Danish author Ida Jessen.) There, he seeks permission to construct on the heath from the king’s advisers, a group of imperial rotters in wigs and satin breeches who conform to his request solely after he pledges to pay for the endeavor together with his navy pension. In return, Kahlen needs a title, a manor and servants; successfully, he needs to grow to be one in every of them.
Mikkelsen is great, and inexorably watchable. He virtually at all times is, whether or not he’s infusing life right into a cardboard Hollywood villain (“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Future”) or having a palpably rollicking time taking part in a rampaging hero (as within the entertaining motion romp “Riders of Justice,” written and directed by Jensen). Mikkelsen’s extreme attractiveness are an important a part of his attraction, as is the sense of menace and intrigue that sure magnificence brings with it. Mikkelsen is aware of learn how to complicate his appears to be like and he’s notably adept at amplifying its menace by withholding readable emotion, a way that turns his face right into a masks you anxiously watch for him to drop.
Kahlen quickly reaches Jutland alone on horseback, and the story begins to take flight, as does the digital camera. With boundless aerial views that set up a way of place each geographic and emotional, Arcel directly conveys the land’s immensity (and harsh grandeur) and emphasizes the titanic effort of Kahlen’s enterprise (and its loneliness). In each solar and rain, he repeatedly bores into the bottom with a hand-held auger to gauge the standard of the soil, feeling, smelling and all however tasting the filth. With each twist of the auger, he steadily underscores his will. By the point he finds what he wants it’s as if the heath had lastly surrendered to him.
There are lots of extra hurdles to come back, largely from different individuals, and a bit of hail. Arcel populates the story pretty quickly after Kahlen decides on a location and with help from some locals, together with a priest, Anton (Gustav Lindh), who assist procure some staff. A supposed folly turns into actuality. Kahlen builds a home, burns the heather to arrange the land, fends off outlaws that come creeping in the dead of night and types a de facto household with a stray, Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg), and a runaway servant, Ann Barbara (a spiky Amanda Collin). He additionally makes a quick, harmful enemy of the royal subsequent door, De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a wicked noble with a melancholic cousin, Edel (Kristine Kujath Thorp).
With Mikkelsen because the story’s anchor, “The Promised Land” builds steadily and gracefully, drawing you in with drama and a welcome old-school dedication to rounded characters, ethical readability and emotionally satisfying storytelling. Arcel often overloads the film and a number of the characters work much less nicely than others, notably Anmai Mus, a wee charmer with a toothy smile who largely exists to melt Kahlen’s edges. And whereas it’s comprehensible that each Edel and Ann Barbara would gravitate towards Kahlen, the dueling romances push the film into predictability, one thing that Mikkelsen — together with his slow-burn charisma and superbly retrained efficiency — by no means does.
The Promised Land
Rated R for bloody violence. In Danish and German, with subtitles. Working time: 2 hours 7 minutes. In theaters.