First he fought off wolves in The Grey and then he took on drug dealers in Cold Pursuit. And now that he’s racing the clock across frozen lakes, it seems that Liam Neeson likes things chilly. His latest movie is The Ice Road, an action-thriller that more or less capitalises on the popularity of the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers.
When an explosion traps 26 miners in the far north reaches of Manitoba, Canada, the mining company implores the government to open the infamous ice road in order to transport three wellheads that will enable the rescue of the stricken men.
Winter is nearing an end and the ice roads crossing vast lakes are melting. Time is of the essence and with three large rigs hauling the wellheads, Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) recruits Mike (Neeson) and his brain-injured war veteran brother Gurdy (Marcus Thomas), as well as a belligerent young woman named Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), to make the perilous journey north before the trapped miners run out of oxygen.
This is where the rundown is best left, because beyond that synopsis The Ice Road deploys all sorts twists and turns in a rather deceptive melding of genres. The film’s three acts play out in stark contrast from each other and they do, indeed, present a challenge for the average viewer.
The first act is presented with dramatic flair. There’s a real sense of peril and the odds feel tangible. In fact, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that this was based on a true story; as the truckers begin their journey north, their story is told with a sense of urgency and realism. The middle act then shifts in tone when their operation takes a tragic turn and becomes a tale of survival. And finally, as if pushed into overdrive, the final act barrels towards the finish line like something out of a James Bond movie.
Needless to say The Ice Road is somewhat disjointed, but that’s not to say it isn’t fun. Neeson wears his trucker’s cap with confidence and holds things together as the story careens in various directions. And if you like what he does on screen in general, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this.
The premise of the ice road itself is a fascinating one, and with the aforementioned History Channel series highlighting the very real dangers faced by truckers in Far North Canada, the film has a strong curiosity factor. The harsh winter environments are striking, the incredible feats performed by courageous drivers awe-inspiring, and the film pushes these elements to the forefront, with director Jonathan Hensleigh (Kill the Irishman) maintaining a foreboding tone throughout.
Neeson leads a serviceable cast, with Matt McCoy (best known as Sgt. Nick Lassard from Police Academy 5 and 6), Matt Salinger (1990’s Captain America himself) and Benjamin Walker (Abe from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) comprising one of the strangest roll calls in recent memory, but they get the job done nevertheless.
The Ice Road moves at a cracking pace; from the realism of its opening sequences to the absurdity of its closing moments, the journey from start to finish is as slippery as the road itself, and there’s an abundance of fun to be had along the way. If you want realism, there’s some. If you want preposterous action, there’s plenty. And if you suspend your disbelief before scanning your QR code at the cinema, then you’ll probably have a blast.
In cinemas: August 12
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laurence Fishburne, Marcus Thomas
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh