On the face of it, perhaps a not-very-scintillating tale. A bunch of guys fighting over a piece of land.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Ludvig Kahlen — a real historic figure — a beat-up, 18th century army captain who seeks to fulfill the King’s hoped-for habitation of an inclement swathe of dreary Danish terrain. With the love of a good woman (Amanda Collin, doing double duty, first, as Ludvig’s housemaid, then as his lover) and a ragamuffin orphan (who sticks in his craw like Jackie Coogan in “The Kid”), Ludvig pounds and pulverizes soil as ungiving as a rock. Then he withstands the evil doings of a Snidley Whiplash foil, the villainous Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerb).
It sounds formulaic, and yet, there’s movie-wonderment when a modest sprig of greenery is seen breaking through the crusty earth. The scale of the film is epic; its mise-en-scene both gritty and gory; and Mikkelsen, who unwaveringly holds the reins of this somewhat silly adventure, brings the gravitas and moral rectitude of the mature Gary Cooper, whose craggy visage he increasingly evokes. Mikkelson, as any woman, and some men, will tell you, is an utter dreamboat.
The Promised Land is Denmark’s choice for Oscar ‘International’ category. It is recommended as an engaging, well-acted historic period-drama with ace direction by Nikolaj Arcel.