The Ice Road

In a battle of good versus evil, who better to have on your side than the perennial good guy and crisis averter, Liam Neeson.

Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Ice Road welcomes Neeson back to the big screen in an impossible rescue mission. Sound familiar? Probably because it sounds like many other Neeson action films.

The Ice Road is the story of Mike McCann (Neeson), who is on a salvage quest to save trapped diamond minors in far northern Canada. Mike and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) drive a big rig across frozen lakes in Manitoba in convoy with Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne), Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) and Varnay (Benjamin Walker). They are delivering an essential 30 tonne, 18-foot gas wellhead plus 300 feet of pipe in the middle of winter to the Katka diamond mine, 432 miles below the Arctic Circle. Time is against them as the minors’ oxygen depletes rapidly when things go awry.

Hensleigh doubles as director and writer. He successfully packs a myriad of plot twists and scenarios into 110 minutes, albeit with little depth. Although Hensleigh refers to social issues, for example, the plight of underpaid and undertrained diamond miners, the script minimises this in exchange for mindless entertainment. This exchange alters the film’s premise from a heavy-hitting political action thriller to a buoyant, disaster action movie. Given the tense status of world events at present, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

While barely touching the surface on the potentially sensitive subject matter, the script efficaciously harnesses the theme of family. The relationship between Mike and Gurty is thoughtfully depicted and forms a key component of Mike’s character arc. On the other hand, despite the bond of Tantoo and her brother Cody’s (Martin Sensmeier) being secondary in the film, it is Tantoo’s driving force. Her decision to accept the ice road job is due to the substance of familial bonds and follows her character from start to finish.

There are some laugh out loud moments to break the ongoing plot tension. Whether these were intentional is questionable. Neeson’s portrayal of ornery Mike, a surly tooth-pick chewing big rig driver with a chip on his shoulder, is initially amusing and takes getting used to given his penchant for depicting the handsome, charismatic lead. Similarly, the untimely death of a main character in the first 35 minutes is so surprising it is laughable instead of heart breaking.

One disappointing element of the film is the lack of female actors. In a cast of 28 credited actors, only 5 are female. And only 1 of these is a main character. Midthunder is excellent as the strong yet rebellious Tantoo but similar to much of the script, the character lacks depth, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent than her counterparts who are one dimensional adaptations of heroes and villains. Given this is the 21st century, it is not good enough.

Tom Stern’s cinematography is exceptional, thanks to being filmed on location in Manitoba. Scenes involving the ice road are both picturesque and thrilling. They add a sense of drama to the oft-times chaotic action. There is just not enough of them. Regardless of the computer-generated nature of the road itself, more time dedicated to the journey on them would render justification to the film’s title.

The Ice Road is a fun film, whether or not it intended to be. The viewer takes a perilous journey of nail-biting tension interwoven with humour and drama with just as many dead ends and roadblocks as a labyrinth. It is similar to other Neeson action films but sometimes same same, but different is okay. If nothing else, The Ice Road is an entertaining departure from reality many of us need right now.

Movie Review By Anita Kertes

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