In 1755, the impoverished Captain Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) sets out to conquer a vast uninhabitable land with a seemingly impossible goal: to cultivate valuable crops and build a colony for the King in exchange for a desperately desired royal name for himself. But the sole ruler of the area, the merciless Frederik De Schinkel, determinedly believes this territory belongs to him. When De Schinkel learns that a recently escaped couple in his employ has taken refuge with Kahlen, the privileged and spiteful ruler swears vengeance, doing everything in his power to drive the captain away. But Kahlen will not waver and nobly takes up the unequal battle — not only risking his life, but also the family of outsiders that has formed around him. Director Nikolaj Arcel equips it all with a sense of sweep and swagger that evokes a John Ford Western and a vitality that’s all too uncommon in such handsomely mounted period fare.
“An invigoratingly savage Nordic western, THE PROMISED LAND is earthy, enjoyable stuff: an expansive, sweeping epic with hope in its heart and dirt under its nails.” —Wendy Ide, Screen International “Arcel seems to have picked up where he left off in Denmark, telling stories of individuals who have bought into the rules of the established order, only to find their devotion, and sometimes their very selves, snuffed out by the ruthlessness of power. But he’s also kept a foot in genre, in the visceral storytelling that American movies have traditionally done so well. The result is the kind of ravishing, rousing epic we don’t really get much of anymore.” —Bilge Ebiri, Vulture “Mads Mikkelson may be our Gary Cooper — a fabulous minimalist whose granitic face hardly ever seems to move yet who’s able to convey vast gradations and depths of feeling. The film itself is a richly pleasing old-fashioned barnstormer.” —Ty Burr, Ty Burr’s Watch List (Substack)