The Promised Land 2023 Movie Review
Hollywood Movies Review

The Promised Land 2023 Movie Review

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The Promised Land 2023 Movie Review

That’s the overarching question, or rather field of tension, in Nikolaj Arcel’s BASTARDEN – a film that offers both beautiful cinematography and a brilliant, subdued performance by Mads Mikkelsen.

Set in Ancien Régime Denmark, a retired soldier attempts to cultivate the heath of Jutland in the name of King Frederik V for wealth and social advancement – a rather venturous project, not only because of wolves and bandits, but above all the property claims of local landlords. While one particular nobleman insists on his inherent rights, Mads Mikkelsen’s protagonist relies on hard work to sustainably secure the rights to the land for himself. It is a case of ethics of merit (Verdienstethik) vs. Ethics of status (Standesethik). This fundamental conflict of modernity ironically seems to be better expressed by the film’s international title THE PROMISED LAND than by the Danish one, which emphasizes the protagonist’s dubious origins.

Unfortunately, the film somewhat loses sight of this basic theme as the running time progresses. A brilliant first half is followed by a half-baked second one, increasingly unsure what it is actually about – with echoes of a revenge thriller and even a love story. There is also a sub plot involving an adopted child that superficially tackles themes of exclusion and belonging, which felt a little out of place. Thus, some of the plot lines sort of fizzle out at the end. Given the 18th century setting, there are also some noticeable, though never distracting anachronisms, be it some forms of behavior, the perfect High German spoken by the peasant colonists or certain terms used (the “German army” f. E.).

In the end, however, Mads Mikkelsen’s strong performance, the great direction as well as cinematography almost completely make up for these weaknesses. Arcel crafted a period piece that so confidently ignores the jarring conventions of modern Hollywood that you can’t help but admire it.

The Promised Land 2023 Movie Review

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