‘Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition’ Review: Ice, Ice, Baby

The subject of the sluggish Norwegian biopic “Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition” might be the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, but its star is frozen water. On clothing and facial hair, from North Pole to South, ice whitens the screen. There’s every indication Amundsen’s heart is carved from it, too.

Clearly rejecting hagiography, the director, Espen Sandberg, presents Amundsen (Pal Sverre Hagen) as a cold, selfish fanatic with a cruel streak and a preference for married mistresses. Whenever we leave his frigid adventures to spend time with his estranged, rather tragic brother, Leon (a touching Christian Rubeck), it’s hard not to recognize him as the more humane, perhaps more admirable sibling.

Woefully short on excitement and long on — well, just long — “Amundsen,” away from the blizzards and chattering teeth, is a pompous parade of stiff collars and stuffy rooms. Even when depicting the 1911 British-Norwegian race to the South Pole (spoiler: Amundsen wins), the film never exceeds a lumbering crawl, despite an agitated score that strains to impart urgency to its hero’s icecapades. A more compelling movie might have dispensed with the litany of achievements to focus more intently on Amundsen’s competitiveness, (especially his rivalry with the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott), a choice that would have dovetailed more organically with this picture’s central performance.

Instead, “Amundsen” tries in vain to make us care about its unprepossessing subject, a man who seems to extract little joy from his staggering successes. This leaves us with a psychological slide show of punishing ambition to which Hagen — master of the baleful glance and glory-seeking smirk — fully commits. Even if his director hesitates to do the same.

Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition
Not rated. In Norwegian and English, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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