At this point, Liam Neeson is almost a brand unto himself.
Usually taking roles that centre on his ability to intimidate the bad guys, Neeson has reinvented himself into a viable—and bankable—action star. Fuelling his characters with his gruff voice and imposing presence, Neeson has somehow become a natural for performances that throw him into the fray. However, even though his film choices have ranged from the good (Taken, The A-Team) to the sub-par (The Commuter, Cold Pursuit), he still manages to thoroughly entertain when he finds the right material.
In his latest film, The Ice Road, Neeson plays Mike, a big-rig driver who specializes in trekking across the dangerous ice roads of northern Canada. When a remote diamond mine collapses, Mike, his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) and the wild-card Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) are recruited to make a trek across the ice to deliver equipment that could save the trapped miners. As the team endures a massive storm and perilously thin ice, Mike and his crew soon discover that there are other forces at work determined to prevent them from reaching their destination.
Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, The Ice Road is an exciting and entertaining trip into the harsh winter wilderness of the Great White North. With its tone and style, Road is closer to Neeson’s The Grey than it is to Taken (and not just because it takes place in the snow). In many ways, Road falls into the realm of survivalist drama, even with its underlying conspiracy element. As the actor moves into his 70s, this is not a film that showcases Neeson’s physical prowess but rather his intensity as the grizzled veteran. Though, frankly, if this is the next evolution of Neeson’s acting career, he remains so convincing that the viewer can’t help but go along for the ride.
However, although Neeson remains the focus, the supporting cast is also enjoyable, especially Midthunder. As mysterious rebel Tantoo, Midthunder brings an energy that’s both wild and likeable. In addition, strong supporting work by Thomas and Lawrence Fishburne also help work to move the story along as well. (Incidentally, if there’s one flaw to Road, it’s the scenes with the miners themselves. Despite their importance to the plot, scenes underground tend to slow down the narrative a little too much and distract from the story unfolding above them.)
As only the second film directed by Hensleigh, one could be forgiven for not being familiar with his work behind the camera. However, his screenwriting credits are incredibly noteworthy. Including classics like Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Punisher and Jumanji, Hensleigh has some incredible films on his resume that show his ability to write an action scene. With The Ice Road, he has found success yet again. Although the action scenes are cartoony in places, they are never silly. Building each set piece with intensity, Road is a film that takes itself very seriously. Considering that much of the film takes place in the trucks in the wilderness, the fact that Road maintains its fun and intensity throughout is particularly impressive. One has to give credit to the editing as Road keeps thing simple and effective. (When was the last time that you’ve seen a cluster of dynamite with a looooooong fuse work so effectively as a narrative device?) Hensleigh makes good use of the trucks as well, highlighting their importance but also using them as weapons when necessary.
By emphasizing the dangerous nature of lesser known heroes such as ice truckers and miners, Road is a tribute to the everyman. Though the film has a heavy action component and conspiracy angle within its make-up, so too does it highlight the bravery that it simply takes to work under these conditions. Whether it’s operating an 18-wheeler on a sheet of ice or working in the darkness underground, there’s a mutual trust that’s required in order to ensure that everyone gets out alive. As such, Road remembers that every life matters, even if there are those who view profits as the highest good.
Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, The Ice Road is another win for Neeson. Backed by a solid script and some well-made action scenes, the film drives forward with such ice in its veins that this is definitely one Road worth taking.
The Ice Road is available on VOD on Friday, June 25th, 2021.