It’s intriguing to imagine Liam Neeson’s management team considering his next film. Maybe ‘Uber Express’? Maybe ‘lit’?
There’s just something symbiotic about Neeson and vehicles—not just cars, but airplanes (“Non-Stop”), suburban commuter trains (“The Commuter”), even snowplows (“Cold Pursuit”).
And now in ‘The Ice Road’, this enduring action hero who pushes improbably 70 sits at the wheel of a big old truck – not your normal truck, but a 65,000 pound rig. And not on ordinary roads of course. On ice roads, i.e. frozen lakes or oceans, where the spring thaw brings treacherous conditions and one wrong move sends you straight into the icy abyss.
Fortunately, Neeson has a way of lend his rough-hewn dignity to even the most perfunctory plots — because this one, it must be said, perfunctory. All you need to understand are three elements: good guys, bad guys – no subtlety here – and the fact that ice is very slippery, very cold and tends to melt in the sun. Understood?
In this latest installment of the Neeson vehicle canon, written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, Neeson is Mike McCann, a long-haul truck driver who is also the caretaker of his brother, Gurty, a war veteran suffering from PTSD. Mike can’t keep a job for long – he’s had 11 jobs in eight years, and we see him being fired after pranking a man who jokes about his war-induced aphasia. brother. But his luck is about to change.
A methane accident explodes a diamond mine in remote Manitoba, Canada, killing eight miners and trapping 26. There is a 30-hour oxygen window, but rescuers need a source first. The only way to get the well to the mine is by truck.
But this is April, when the ice roads leading to the mine are melting. No truck driver would undertake such a suicide mission.
Mike responds to a warning from Jim Goldenrod, organizer of the Impossible Rescue, and offers his driving skills (yes, Neeson still has a special set of skills) and brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) as a top mechanic. The duo are soon hired, along with Goldrenrod himself (Laurence Fishburne, sadly underused here) and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a feisty young driver whose job is more personal than financial – her brother is trapped in the mine.
There’s another passenger in the three-harness convoy: an insurance guy from the company that operates the mine, apparently needed for his actuarial skills (Benjamin Walker, whose considerable acting talents aren’t actually mined here, if you’ll excuse the pun).
Image credit: AP
Image credit: AP
Image credit: AP
In a movie that’s big on great scenery but skimps on character development and backstory, we know who the good guys are from the get-go – especially Mike and Gurty. We’ll also find out soon enough who the bad guys are” they are as cartoonish as can be. As for the ice, there’s a lot, and it’s getting thinner and thinner – what you might say of the plot if you wanted to grab low-hanging fruit from the possible pun tree.
More low-hanging fruit is offered in the lyrics to the Johnny Cash song on the country-infused soundtrack: “All I do is drive, drive, drive,” it reads (here sung by Jason Isbell). “Try to stay alive.” And while you may be thinking back to these lyrics as you see Neeson’s Mike doing just that — ride, ride, ride — you might as well focus on the “living” part.
That’s because Neeson’s durability as an action hero seems more remarkable with age. Yes, he’s older and more frail and paler here, and there’s not even a trace of love interest — unless you count Mike’s believable love for his brother, the only developed relationship in the script. But like Mike, he gets the job done, and he’s the reason to watch this.