Liam Neeson might have a particular set of skills, but nowhere are they more tested than in this ice trucking extravaganza. Having proved himself unstoppable when it comes to family, our aging action star takes things to another level in The Ice Road. A preposterous action thriller, which sees a convoy of sixteen wheelers manoeuvre their way across treacherous terrain against the clock.
Writer director Jonathan Hensleigh, who penned Die Hard: With A Vengeance and Armageddon amongst others, conjures tension from tiny moments as the premise is unpacked. Playing one half of a truck driving sibling tag team, Liam Neeson’s Mike is gruffly dependable. Alongside Marcus Thomas as his brother Gurty, their relationship is laid out in broad strokes before things get moving.
In a bold and brash move, audiences are introduced to this world using staggering numbers and minimal ice thickness. Even before the disaster is given definition and Holt McCallany’s Lampard adds character kudos, risks are laid out in blunt no nonsense terms for audiences to ponder. Sub-zero conditions, truck driver mentalities and macho posturing play their part in establishing this world.
This is simple stuff made to look easy by a veteran of action cinema set-ups. Lawrence Fishburne and Liam Neeson add a workman-like quality to proceedings, as their history is conveyed in little time. Mike and Goldenrod come with baggage, while Mike’s brother Gurty is played touchingly throughout without embracing caricature. Filling the remaining crew above ground are actors Amber Midthunder and Benjamin Walker, who lean into their archetypes but do so with commitment.
With a mine shaft cave in and classic ticking clock scenarios in place, The Ice Road starts slowly but continues to gain momentum throughout. Company man Varnay, played with an oily undercurrent by Benjamin Walker, proves tenacious when it comes to fulfilling his job goals. Meanwhile Amber Midthunder convinces as Tantoo, the sole female in a male-dominated world, who is endlessly resourceful and not short on sass.
Composer Max Aruj makes sure to match any on screen action with convincingly orchestral accompaniment, as melancholy piano and pulsing string arrangements work in unison. Emotional beats gain momentum, set pieces garner gravitas and his musical contributions offer substance as this unlikely quartet get moving. From minute one things are against them as weather conditions, man-made disasters and internal squabbling put pressure on their delicate dynamic.
Jonathan Hensleigh keeps tensions high, by ensuring those trapped below ground are rounded enough to allow emotional investment. Younger brothers, corporate sell-outs and upstanding idealists are all in attendance giving this collective some sense of reality. Standouts include Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany, who brings strong acting credentials to a seemingly small part.
The Ice Road is supremely entertaining because it never pretends to be anything else. There are no veiled issues, no hidden agendas and a real sense of action adventure. With a three-tier narrative which keeps perfect track of every interested party, Jonathan Hensleigh makes sure never to drop the ball. This was never going to be highbrow or overtly intellectual, but there is no denying that this action film delivers.
Similarly, Liam Neeson continues to turn in some solid performances, while other high profile actors choose to coast. Time seems to have stood still for him, as he continues kicking arse and taking names from anyone who gets in his way. As the stakes increase, time is in short supply and bad guys are queuing up to be dispatched these ice trucking archetypes kick it up a notch. High speed pursuits, grungy fist fights and last minute revelations keep things predictable.
However, despite the genre clichés and hints of on screen ham The Ice Road works well. This is a polished piece of action fare, which could sit comfortably next to Con Air or Top Gun: Maverick. A ludicrous premise and all the one man army touchstones are pure Jerry Bruckheimer. It is the sort of thing his producing partner Don Simpson might have considered in his heyday. A high-octane, high-concept movie that has universal appeal. An idea which might not be popular, but is guaranteed to offer a great experience and good return on investment.
Something which The Ice Road does with no problems at all, further cementing Liam Neeson’s reputation as the only action star in the 60-70 age bracket worth his salt. A fact that continues to gain credence, when his list of acting credits goes up against on demand king Bruce Willis. An irony which is likely to be lost on the great John McClane himself.