THE ICE ROAD
PG-13, 108 mins.
2021, PG-13, 108 mins.
Liam Neeson as Mike / Laurence Fishburne as Goldenrod / Holt McCallany as René Lampard / Matt McCoy as George Sickle / Martin Sensmeier as Cody / Benjamin Walker as VarnayWritten and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
THE ICE ROAD is
the single worst Liam Neeson as a Manitoban semi-truck driver thriller
I've ever seen.
It just has to
This film has to be seen to be believed. Seemingly everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown in by writer/director Jonathon Hensleigh (THE PUNISHER and KILL THE IRISHMAN, making his first foray behind the camera in a decade): We got, yes, big rig trucks...we got ice roads...we got Manitoban snow covered vistas...we got trapped diamond miners whose lives are in danger...we got PTSD riddled soldiers trying to acclimate to a life on the outside...I mean...like...wow! There's a lot of movie in this movie.
To be completely
fair, no one should actually diminish the work of actual truckers that
have to traverse some of the most dangerous terrain on the planet (and
terrain not really built for vehicles of this size or weight), but THE ICE
ROAD is so incredibly dopey and dull as far as aging Liam Neeson taking
out the trash thrillers. The
Oscar nominated actor has made a career resurgence in the last decade-plus
as an unlikely action hero, and I've been a defender of many of these
outing. THE ICE ROAD is
pretty indefensibly awful on all accounts; it makes this year's THE
MARKSMEN (also with Neeson) look like DIE HARD.
steely eyed and gravel voiced actor has waged one-man wars on just about
every conceivable target over the years in the TAKEN
series, NON-STOP, THE
GREY, and so on, but he's never faced such a punishing challenge
as great as Canadian winters (trust me...they're brutal).
In THE ICE ROAD Neeson (in perhaps his most phoned-in performance
to date) plays Mike, a down on his luck big rigger that once served
proudly in the Iraq War with his brother Gurty (Markas Thomas, who's never
once plausible as a sibling to Neeson), but a devastating injury to him
forced forced both men to retire from service and find a way to make ends
meet on the home front. And poor ol' Gurty was so traumatized by his battlefront
experience that he's in a perpetually childlike state of confusion and
constantly requires the aid and care of his older brother.
Think of Gurty as a Rain Man-like figure to Neeson's Mike, but way,
way less well written. Oh,
but Gurty is a wiz as a mechanic despite his mental limitations.
THE ICE ROAD
actual begins by showing a massive explosion at a very remote diamond mind
in Northern Manitoba, trapping all of the workers inside.
With the clock ticking and air running out, authorities are quickly
trying to find a manner to save them.
A methane leak led to the disaster, meaning that new wellheads are
needed ASAP to stabilize the area and the mines.
There's one big problem: The wellhead weighs 30 tons and can't be
simple flown in...only semi-trucks will be capable of securing their
delivery in a timely manner. There's
an even bigger problem: The only way the trucks can make it is by driving
across the so-called ice roads of Northern Manitoba, which are driving
paths right on top of lake beds that are used in winter months for supply
runs...but it's now spring. A
North Dakota big rig company man named Goldenrod (yes, actual name,
played by Laurence Fishburne) receives word of what's happening at the
mine and what's needed to be done, so he decides to take the Herculean
challenge and recruit a cracker jack squad of brave men and women to take
on the wellhead delivery assignment.
And wouldn't you
know it, Mike and his baby brother are tasked, with both desperate for
cash after losing their respective jobs after Mike decked one of their
co-workers in the face after making fun of his mentally scarred brother by
calling him a "retard" (never call a brother of Liam Neeson this
in a movie...or anyone's brother, for that matter).
Goldenrod, Mike, and Gurty are joined by a brave Native Canadian
named Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), who's just as good on the rigs as her
male companions and has a personal stake in the mission (her own brother
is one of the trapped miners). Along
for the ride is the big city cooperate insurance man named Varnay
(Benjamin Walker, who I thought - ironically enough - looked an awful lot
like a young Liam Neeson in the title role of the totally based on a true
story ABRAHAM LINCOLN:
VAMPIRE HUNTER). Varnay
looks innocent and harmless enough, but I think that we've all seen enough
films of THE ICE ROAD's variety to be able to easily surmise that this
dude is definitely not the straight shooter that he claims to be and
probably has evil intentions. To
say that Walker is saddled with one of the most obvious and telegraphed
villain roles in recent memory would be the grandest of understatements.
Of the very few
(and I mean very few) good things about THE ICE ROAD I will say
this: At nearly 70, Neeson can still bring it as a gnarly and now elderly
action star. Even though he
has been taking far too many paycheck grabbing roles like this one and the
one given too him in the equally insipid THE MARKSMEN for my tastes, the
former Oscar Schindler nevertheless makes the proceedings watchable by his
very presence alone (even though he's straddled with some awful lines like
"Kiss my Irish ass!"). For
the relative class that he brings to the film, there's no question that
Mike is simply a third tier character for Neeson, and it's one written on
pure autopilot (trigger happy old man with a history of violence is called
upon to save the day and destroy his enemies) and the formula is frankly
getting pitifully stale. Outside
of the setting and story differences, Neeson's characters from THE
MARKSMEN and THE ICE ROAD are so vanilla plain and interchangeable that
you kind of have to wonder if they were shot together.
Also, for a film
about miners facing certain death with depleted oxygen reserves, THE ICE
ROAD never once makes us care for any of these doomed men.
Their predicament is a plot moving device more than anything and
Hensleigh so haphazardly segues between the truckers and the miners that I
often forget the film even had a trapped miners subplot at times.
And, man, for a film that's basically a B-grade pulp adventure
flick, THE ICE ROAD pathetically tries to shoehorn in some somber and
topical themes/commentary that are dead on arrival on the scripted page.
There's a couple of fleeting moments about the perils of PTSD
afflicted soldiers at home and how unscrupulous doctors are over
prescribing them with opioids (the scene between a raging Mike and Gurty's
doctor is so shamefully black and white and simplistic in its portrayal of
this actual crisis that's it's laughable).
Then there's a story thread about vile and greedy corporate stooges
that are trying to cover up the methane explosion to save a quick buck.
Then there's Tantoo's peoples' plight about how said companies have
been exploiting Native lands for what seems like an eternity and fuels her
current rage against them in all endeavors.
All of these are important topics of conversation, to be sure, but
THE ICE ROAD mistakes just lazily throwing these elements into the mixing
bowl that is this film's mediocre script as compelling versus actually
engaging in some compelling discourse on the matters; Hensleigh's handling
here seems heavy handed and lacking in nuance.