Mike McCann (Liam Neeson), a weathered big-rig driver, answers the emergency call of the Canadian government to deliver vital drilling equipment that will save a group of trapped miners in the Canadian far north. Together with his “brother” Gurty (Marcus Thomas), rebellious Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), crew leader Jim (Laurence Fishburne), and insurance actuary Tom (Benjamin Walker), Mike sets out on a seemingly suicidal mission to deliver the cargo across the treacherous Ice Road before it’s too late.
On its surface, The Ice Road is incredibly similar to the 1998 film Armageddon. A group of rugged outcasts have to deliver a payload that will almost certainly result in their death but will save the lives of others if successful. Naturally, the scope for The Ice Road is a lot smaller than that of Armageddon but that doesn’t stop the tone or tension from being any less dull.
Upon further review, writer and director Jonathan Hensleigh actually wrote the script for Armageddon and many other late 90’s-early 2000’s action blockbusters including The Punisher (where he also directed) and Die Hard With a Vengeance. Hensleigh definitely has a knack for taking a seemingly simple premise and turning it up to an eleven.
Now that’s not to say The Ice Road doesn’t have it’s faults. The writing itself is bland and the CGI is laughable in certain scenes (you’ll definitely know it when you see it). But what makes up for this is the commitment to the roles that the cast brings. It’s always a pleasure seeing Neeson do what he’s best at (old guy kicking ass) and a return to the northern setting seems to really suit him. Similarly, Fishburne is always a delight despite his surprising lack of action in this role. Thomas does a good job as Neeson’s brother-like friend (the connection was never made super clear) who suffers from a mental disorder caused by PTSD. He has some defining scenes but it’s clear that his character’s purpose is to give Neeson some emotional depth. The only character who didn’t stand out as much as the others was Midthunder’s Tantoo but this was in large part due to the lack of writing for her character.
Overall, The Ice Road is not a perfect film by any means but it is an enjoyable one. A pure popcorn flick through and through that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Hensleigh knows the type of film he’s setting out to make and does it well. Here’s hoping that in his future projects, more focus will be put on the writing and FX budget.
Reviewed online (screener provided by Rialto Distribution), August 16, 2021. Rating: M. Running time: 109 min.
PRODUCTION: A Code Entertainment, ShivHans Pictures, Envision Media Arts, Ice Roads Productions production. In association with The Solution Entertainment Group, Aperture Media Partners LLC and Manitoba Film & Music. Producers: Al Corley, Eugene Musso, Lee Nelson, Shivani Rawat, Bart Rosenblatt, and David Tish. Executive producers: David Buelow, Jonathan Dana, Connor Flanagan, Julie Goldstein, Adam Lebovitz, Monica Levinson, Myles Nestel, Keith Ray Putman, Andrew C. Robinson, Jared D. Underwood, and Lisa Wilson.
CREW: Director/Writer: Jonathan Hensleigh. Cinematography: Tom Stern. Editing: Douglas Crise. Music: Max Aruj.
CAST: Liam Neeson, Marcus Thomas, Laurence Fishburne, Amber Midthunder, Benjamin Walker, Holt McCallany, Martin Sensmeier, Matt McCoy, Matt Salinger, Chad Bruce, Adam Hurtig, Bradley Sawatzky, Marshall Williams, Paul Essiembre, Arne MacPherson, and Gabriel Daniels.