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.