By Nik Grozdanovic
Liam Neeson has made some strange choices in his career as an elderly, cool as hell, action hero badass. It’s fair to say that all of this started with Taken in 2008. Fairer still to admit that no other action film that followed since has reached quite the same cult status. There have been great ones that warrant repeat viewing (The Grey), good ones that have flown under the radar (A Walk Among the Tombstones), and enjoyable guilty pleasures (The Commuter) along the way. The Ice Road is none of the above. In fact, it might just be the worst action film Liam Neeson has ever done.
The story takes place in middle-of-nowhere Manitoba, Canada, when an explosion traps a group of miners in a diamond mine. The only way to get the miners out, who have 30 hours’ worth of oxygen left, is with a wellhead. And the only way to get such a large piece of equipment over to their mine in time is via a dangerous ice road. Trucker Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) agrees to lead the rescue mission and quickly recruits two drivers to accompany him. The first is Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a young woman with North American indigenous roots, and the second ends up being Mike McCann (Neeson), who was recently fired from his umpteenth job after causing a bit of a ruckus protecting his PTSD-riddled brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) from bullies. Gurty also suffers from aphasia, a language disorder, which not only makes him an easy target but requires Mike to be his caretaker and take him everywhere he goes.
The adventure begins with the four of them and an additional member – a somewhat mysterious Mr Varnay (Benjamin Walker) who says he’s there to make sure Katka’s investments aren’t in vain. That’s the company that owns the mine. Naturally everything goes pear-shaped almost as soon as the three trucks hit the ice road, and we as the audience are treated to a gamut of expositional dialogue and predictable roadblocks along the way.
Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh should really know better. It’s not like this is his first rodeo, the man wrote Die Hard with a Vengeance so he’s been around since the 90s. And I especially focus on the writing because that is what ultimately kills this movie – not the direction, of which there are spurts and spats of beauty in sequence and composition (those under-the-ice shots!). No, it’s definitely the writing. Whether it be trucker jargon used to create a sense of tension only to end up confusing anyone who doesn’t know what rigging and capping methane pockets with a wellhead means (ie 98.5 per cent of the audience), or just having people say the poorly-imagined name of the company – Katka – way too many times, or just having the most unrealistic, TV-movie exchanges you can possibly imagine.
The acting doesn’t help – starting with Neeson himself, who looks so incredibly bored and like he’d rather be doing anything else. The only people who put real effort into their roles are Walker, Midthunder and Thomas; but all end up being quite flat because they’re portraying poorly written one-dimensional characters. As enticing as the story and setting seem on paper, The Ice Road is just another great example in a long list of mediocrity that prove no concept and no location can hide the ugliness rotting inside a terrible screenplay. The vast icy nothingness of the location is certainly a sight to behold, but don’t go in expecting Mad Max on ice.
DIRECTED BY Jonathan Hensleigh
STARRING Liam Neeson, Marcus Thomas, Amber Midthunder, Benjamin Walker, Laurence Fishburne
USA 2021 103mins