THE ICE ROAD

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh

Stars: Liam Neeson, Marcus Thomas, Amber Midthunder, Laurence Fishburne, Benjamin Walker, Holt McCallany, Matt McCoy, Matt Salinger, Martin Sensmeier.  

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Liam Neeson’s new action thriller is best described as a cross between National Geographics’ documentary series Ice Road Truckers and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s tense 1953 drama The Wages Of Fear in which a group of men were hired to transport a shipment of volatile nitro glycerin through treacherous mountain passes and across rickety old bridges. The film was remade in 1977 as Sorcerer by Oscar winning filmmaker William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist, etc). 

A gas explosion in a diamond mine in Manitoba in the far northern reaches of Canada traps 20 miners underground. The cavern in which they are trapped is slowly filling with deadly methane gas, and they have about thirty hours of oxygen left before they perish. A desperate high stakes mission is mounted to transport vital machinery, pipes and well heads to rescue the miners.The equipment is too heavy to be transported by helicopter so it has to be carried on big semi-trailers. A convoy of three huge 16 wheelers is assembled, providing some built in redundancy in case one of the trucks doesn’t make the trip. The trucks will have to travel across frozen lakes and roads coated in a thin layer of ice that is susceptible to cracking, particularly under the wheels of the trucks. 

Leading this convoy is Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) who owns a trucking company. There is also Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, from the tv series Roswell, New Mexico, etc), a feisty native whose brother Cory is one of the trapped miners, making the mission personal for her. There is also Mike McCann (Neeson), a driver who is unable to hold down a job for too long because of his quick temper and his need to look after his psychologically damaged brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraqi war veteran who suffers from aphasia. But Gurty is an ace mechanic and he accompanies Mike, Also along on the mission is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, who played the title character in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, etc), a sleazy representative of the mining company who is responsible for risk assessment.  

But before long it becomes clear that there is another agenda at work, and it seems as though someone doesn’t want the mission to succeed. The drivers are battling not only the elements but also human greed and venal, corrupt corporate executives and a couple of hired killers. 

The Ice Road has been written and directed in muscular fashion by Jonathan Hensleigh (who wrote films like Die Hard With A Vengeance and Armageddon, etc). There are a couple of quite tense and well-staged set pieces and Hensleigh deftly ramps up the suspense. But there is an air of predictability about proceedings as the journey continues. There is some superb cinematography from Clint Eastwood’s regular collaborator Tom Stern who does a great job of capturing the cold wintry landscapes. The settings are quite atmospheric. The scenes that follow the trapped miners and some of the decisions they face while waiting to be rescued have a claustrophobic quality.  

Characterisation here is rather minimal but we get enough detail to identify with the characters and cheer on our heroes as they face a number of challenges. Neeson has a reliable screen presence and he again flexes his muscles and his angry hero persona here. Although he still grunts and growls his way through his dialogue as the taciturn protagonist his role here is a bit of a change of pace though as he is not tackling terrorists, drug cartels, corrupt cops or beating up crooks half his age. Midthunder has a strong preence as Tantoo, and she proves herself capable of handling some of the physical action. Fishburne has a strong presence but his role is rather brief. 

The film also boasts a great soundtrack featuring cover versions of some classic country songs and driving songs especially produced under the auspices of Nikki Sixx. 

The Ice Road may not be one of Neeson’s best films, but it is an entertaining diversion and worth a look.

★★★

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