The Ice Road: A Messy But Fun Action-Thriller
Screener provided by Rialto Distribution
Words By Arnel Duracak
“…The Ice Road is much more enjoyable than it has any right to be”
It’s hard to believe that we’re in the home stretch of Liam Neeson action films. After the actor announced his retirement from the genre earlier this year, the fact that he’ll only star in a few more action films before supposedly making more romantic comedies, is both a sad realisation that Neeson is almost 70, and a welcome thought that he’ll return to more mellow roles. Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Ice Road (2021) is one of those final Neeson action films, and it’s another reminder that the actor has carved himself a special place among the Action genres elite.
Following Neeson’s earlier 2021 performance as a former marine-turned-rancher in The Marksman (2021), The Ice Road sees the actor swap the heat of the Arizona-Mexico border for much colder terrain. Neeson plays Mike McCann, an ice trucker who is a full time carer of his Iraq War veteran, PTSD suffering brother, Gurty (Marcus Thomas). With work short for the brothers after their recent axing, a task presents itself in the form of a time-ticking venture to deliver wellheads to a collapsed mine where miners are trapped. Joining the brothers on this risky delivery mission is mission leader, Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne); Goldenrod’s former colleague and recently incarcerated Tantoo (Amber Midthunder); and the unknown of the group, Varnay (Benjamin Walker).
In hindsight, the film is a point A to point B type road thriller, but it also manages to cram in a cover-up subplot as well as a series of messy, but surprisingly enjoyable set pieces. There’s fist fights on ice, plenty of near misses and explosions, and even the craziest human incited avalanche in a film this year (sorry Black Widow). All of this has been inserted into the film (among other chaos) and really elevates the experience especially during the earlier stages where questions regarding what will transpire on the ice, aside from potential breaking and sinking, cross one’s mind.
Whether intentional or not, there are also relatively obvious correlations between Mike and Gurty, and the characters of Lennie and George in John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men. Gurty, like Lennie, is a relatively big and disabled worker, and he relies on his companion (or brother, in Gurty’s case) for help and guidance. Mike, like George, knows that he is responsible for his partner and has his best interests in mind, even when he voices his agitation for having to care for him at times. There is also the fact that both sets of characters have a vision for a better life and future prospects. In Mike and Gurty’s case, Gurty plants the idea of the brothers owning their own truck in the future, while in Lennie and George’s case, it’s actually George who envisions the prospect of the pair having a future farm together.
Laurence Fishburne in The Ice Road
While the aforementioned correlation might seem but a speck in the wider events of the narrative, it ultimately enhances the motives and relationship between Mike and Gurty. Whereas someone might view Mike and Gurty’s relationship as peculiar — particularly due to the dangerous situation Mike brings Gurty into — their tenacity and the very difference in their thought process during difficult moments, heightens the enjoyment of the situations they find themselves in.
The biggest issues in the film are the side characters who are quite underwritten, and the off kilter direction of the film. The side characters themselves only serve to give Mike and Gurty something else to worry about, while the films direction is just all over the place. While that isn’t necessarily a problem seeing as the two brothers are the centrepiece, it leads the film into B movie territory as action begins to subsume plot and coherence. For instance, the film quickly becomes more concerned with isolated instances rather than a build up to a whole. There’s an insurance scam underpinning everything, and someone like the antagonist Varnay (and his actions) just become more of a nuisance considering he is quite literally, just there for the ride. Varnay is quite poorly written (as is the insurance scam and its perpetrators) and is just a distraction you don’t want.
For what it’s worth, the absurdness of the films plotting, and its navigation of B movie territory (poor CGI, underwritten side characters, a comical ice tussle while a truck roles away) actually leaves quite a nice taste when all is said and done. Perhaps this is due to Neeson’s ability to make the mundane just a bit more interesting, or maybe it’s just because the film leans into all of the craze it conjures up. Whatever it is, The Ice Road is much more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
The Ice Road opens nationally from the 12th of August 2021.
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