‘Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition’ Review
In Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition, Espen Sandberg continues his string of movies highlighting the heroes of Norway. Previous movies include Max Manus: Man of War (2008) and the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki (2012), the tale of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl. And then to earn some coin, Sandberg also directed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). This latest project, written by Ravn Lanesskog, takes on another legendary explorer – this time it’s Roald Amundsen, the first to traverse the Northwest Passage, the first to reach the South Pole, and the first to reach the North Pole by plane.
Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen stars as Roald Amundsen; he also played Thor Heyerdahl in Sandberg’s Kon-Tiki. Hagen bears a striking resemblance to the photos of Amundsen, and utilizes a low-key, yet very direct communication style to give us a look at the relentless commitment to achieving his goals. We learn he held grudges – against the Brits and even against his own brother – which he used as motivation. Sandberg uses a conversation as a framing device throughout the film. Roald’s estranged brother Leon (Christian Rubeck, Swimming with Men, 2018) and Roald’s lover Bess Magids (Katherine Waterston, The World to Come, 2020) share their insights and perspective while awaiting word on Roald’s latest excursion. This begins after the opening sequence where we see Roald’s prop plane crash land on an Arctic ice shelf.
Of course, this is the story of one of the greatest explorers and adventurers in history, so there is a nice blend of that conversation, some backstory, and a first-hand look at some of Roald’s expeditions. The elements are incredibly harsh, but Sandberg never lingers too long on any one piece of this puzzle. It seems he is more interested in what made Roald tick – what drove him to these pursuits at the expense of most relationships. The rivalry with the Brits is clear and we see the humiliation Roald endured after besting Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole. Rather than accolades, he faced criticism and judgment of his methods.
Roald Amundsen was clearly not a man to rest on his laurels, even after being presumed dead on more than one occasion. He was always a body in motion. We see his childhood fascination towards unexplored areas. No map? No problem. Roald’s harsh treatment of his brother is explored, and it’s interesting to note the differences in how Bess and Leon describe Roald. Amundsen went missing while on an Arctic rescue mission in 1928. He was 55 years old but looked 20 years beyond that. This film is not hero worship or even a traditional tribute. Then again, maybe it’s the type of tribute a man like Roald Amundsen would appreciate. For those who wish to learn more, seek out the 6-hour 1985 PBS mini-series, “The Last Place on Earth”.