There’s been a pretty long stretch of drought here in MN with this pro-longed heatwave and no rain that everyone’s lawn in our neighborhood is pretty much all yellow. So when I came across the poster of Ice Road when I launched Netflix, it sounds like a fun escapism – trust me, it’s not something I’d be keen on watching come November, ahah.
I feel like I can’t keep up with Liam Neeson‘s action career… he’s become ever so prolific ever since he did Taken in 2009 and became an unlikely action star. To be fair though, he does have a few dramas here and there, such as Ordinary Love, Made in Italy, but his primary bread and butter these days are B action movies! This time he plays an Irish-American guy from North Dakota (I’m chuckling even typing that!) named Mike McCann who lands a job as a big-rig driver following an explosion at diamond mine in Manitoba, Canada. Laurence Fishburne plays a trucking company boss Jim Goldenrod who’s tasked to organize the mission of delivering equipment to rescue the two dozen miners trapped miners, which is tricky given his drivers are off duty in the Spring time. He’s so desperate to find drivers he even bailed one of his former employee Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) whose half-brother is actually one of the miners.
Mike and his Aphasia-stricken, Iraq-war vet brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) have been strapped for cash as Gurty’s condition made it hard to hold a job, so naturally he jumps at the chance to earn $50k in a short amount of time. But you don’t have to be an expert to know that the job of delivering 30-ton, 18-foot gas well-head and 300 feet of equipment through thin ice road of frozen lake in April is dangerous. Plus they only have less than 30 hours as the trapped miners are losing oxygen, fast!
Along for the ride with Mike + Gurty are Goldenrod, Tantoo and a mine insurance rep Varnay (Benjamin Walker) who’s riding with Tantoo. Well, the three Kenwood 18-wheelers are off… but of course it’s no spoiler to say not everyone is going to make it to Manitoba. What started out as dangerous becomes a deadly one. Hell breaks loose almost immediately, and I have to say I’m surprised how fast we lose one of the main characters!
Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, a prolific screenwriter (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jumanji, Kill the Irishman, etc.) this is his third feature film which are all in the action/thriller genre. I haven’t seen the two movies he directed (Kill the Irishman, The Punisher) but I think this one isn’t exactly a strong narrative work as the dialog is run-of-the-mill with a predictable plot. The action scenes aren’t much to write about either, other than the pretty bad CGI of the thin ice breaking scenes. The more practical effects of trucks/people going under the ice is a bit more believable, and boy Neeson sure didn’t mind being put through the wringer for his action movies! The fact that the guy is 69 years old is impressive and he still looks amazingly fit for his age.
This is very much a Liam Neeson movie who can still holds his own against his much younger cast members. I’m most impressed with Midthunder as Tantoo who’s got some great driving scenes as well as dramatic scenes. Given that she’s got the most to lose from the failed mission provides the emotional beats of the film, which offers a nice parallel to the brotherly relationship between Mike and Gurty. Walker is a pretty relentless character but he’s more irritating than annoying, plus he’s a racist bastard which perhaps is written as a mea culpa of sort for Neeson (if you recall he was in hot water for an allegedly racist remark he made in 2019). I’ve just seen Holt McCallany in another movie involving trucks (Wrath of Man), here he plays one of the miners who discovered the methane sensors were turned off before the mine exploded.
Neeson’s action movies seem to involve modes of transport and he’s got to do plenty of truck driving on thin ice and through twisty mountain roads, as well as physical fight scenes. Asked by a talk show host why he doesn’t do more rom-coms in Hawaii or something like that, he said he likes the challenge. Undoubtedly he remains a watchable actor and has perfected the world-weary, B-movie hero persona down pat. I do wish he’d challenge his ACTING muscles more than his physical ones, as obviously he’s a capable and charismatic DRAMATIC actor.
Overall it’s a pretty entertaining movie with gorgeous Canadian wintry scenes shot by DP Tom Stern. Hensleigh managed to inject a few suspenseful moments on the ice despite predictable perils that await the drivers, especially the bridge-crossing scene and one character trying to close the bridge gate in time before being pinned to death by an 18-wheeler!! The action at times are so over the top, but then again, given it was released the same weekend as F9, that one still wins the most ludicrous-action-scenes award, ahah. If you’re a fan of Neeson-in-action, then The Ice Road would be a decent movie to pass the time.