I’ve come to trust Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen—his good taste in movie roles is seasoned with a sense of daring, as we’ve seen in such outstanding imports as The Hunt and Another Round. I’m also an admirer of screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, whose many credits include Brothers and After the Wedding, in which Mikkelsen appeared. (Jensen also won an Oscar for his short subject Election Night, which he wrote and directed.)

Their latest collaboration, with co-writer and director Nikolai Arcel and Ida Jessen, is a sprawling historical saga based on the life of a poor but stubborn farmer named Ludvig Kahlen. In the mid-1700s, he set out to capture the attention of his King by cultivating a large plot of land that everyone else had written off as barren. This puts him at odds with a ruthless landowner (played with lusty, borderline-overripe brio by Simon Bennebjerg), who grows apoplectic with each step Kahlen makes toward success. What’s more, Kahlen creates a makeshift family with a disgraced female servant and a foul-mouthed Romany girl who is considered bad luck. Everything seems to be going his way.

In print this emits an air of cliché but in fact The Promised Land is a full-blooded epic of one man’s achievements against all odds.

If it seems as though I’ve committed the sin of revealing too much I assure you that this is the kind of movie where the conclusion is predestined. It’s the quality of the journey that matters, and director Arcel makes the most of every plot turn. Mikkelsen commands the screen, as usual, and is the perfect actor to play this flawed hero.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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February 2024