The Promised Land

The Promised Land The Promised Land

In, “The Promised Land” Mads Mikkelsen, playing Ludvig Kahlen, a broke German soldier, is hustling in the 18th century Jutland heath, trying to cultivate the untamed wilderness that has defied all previous attempts at taming. Mads Mikkelsen embodies the financially struggling German soldier of the 18th century as only he can. Director Nikolaj Arcel and DP Rasmus Videbaek snag some killer shots, giving off serious Western vibes with a dash of violence in the rugged beauty.

Ludvig’s journey isn’t your typical hero story; he starts off stone-cold and violent. I get it, though – soldier risking his neck for a country that treats him like garbage. In the chaos, Ludvig’s carving out his spot, no time for anyone blocking his way. But it’s the people causing him grief, especially the shady magistrate Frederik de Schinkel and his cronies.

Set in 18th century Denmark, a time of seismic agricultural reforms that shattered entrenched hierarchies, the film unveils Mads Mikkelsen in his second collaboration with Arcel, portraying Ludvig Kahlen. Once a Lieutenant who clawed his way out of obscurity, Ludvig now languishes in destitution, dwelling in a meager abode. His aspiration? To cultivate a parcel of the unruly Jutland heath, a prospect met with disdain by both the royal court and landowners. Despite their resistance, the Danish King, determined to settle the region, bestows Ludvig with permission, tempting him with the prospect of a noble title.

Yet, the heath’s unyielding soil poses an arduous challenge, testing Ludvig’s resilience. A sympathetic young pastor (Anton Eklund) lends a helping hand, presenting Ludvig with aid in the form of two runaway tenant farmers, Joannes (Morten Hee Andersen) and Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin). Ludvig, cautious of the looming risks, reluctantly takes them in, fully aware that their pursuers may be hot on their trail. Amid this uneasy alliance, Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), the nearby nobleman, emerges as a formidable foe. Initially appearing as a frivolous figure, Frederik’s true nature unravels, exposing him as a sadistic monster who opts for outright warfare against Ludvig. As if Ludvig’s challenges weren’t formidable enough, he also contends with marauding bands of outlaws in the nearby forest. To further complicate matters, a runaway child.

Now, “The Promised Land” gives off that epic historical vibe, a real Nikolaj Arcel special. Ludvig’s evolution is a wild ride, not a clean hero arc. When push comes to shove with Frederik’s murderous plans, Ludvig realizes he needs help. Those folks he brushed off earlier become his makeshift family, each with dreams to chase.

“The Promised Land” can be a bleak endeavor, it does have these weirdly funny moments, mostly thanks to the makeshift family at the heart of things, but overall, it’s a pretty heavy ride. Picture Ludvig grinding it out, battling everything the elements can throw at him. Yet, as Ludvig starts to figure out this ain’t a solo mission, that the found family means as much as any high-and-mighty title.

Backed by Dan Romer’s killer score and top-notch performances, Arcel is back in the game after a shaky stint with “The Dark Tower.” He’s back to his roots, diving deep into drama with a touch of genre madness. The film’s got its barbaric moments that’ll make your skin crawl, and the finale brings the bloodshed everyone loves. Whether it truly reflects Ludvig’s life, who knows?

Overall, “The Promised Land” is a solid flick, borderline epic. It’s a raw journey, reminding you life’s a struggle, and sometimes, you just can’t go it alone.

Out now at the Montreal Cinéma Cineplex Forum.