The Ice Road Liam Neeson

The Ice Road: Even a change of genre can’t keep the Liam Neeson movie down

Though it’s technically a trucker movie, this becomes a familiar Liam Neeson vehicle before long.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Liam Neeson’s career seems to have settled on a rather clear path in the last decade or so. While not all Liam Neeson movies are “Liam Neeson movies,” it has become very easy to identify a Liam Neeson movie. He tends to play a variation on the same character: a steely man with either a tough profession, tough past or both, who has people depending on him to some degree and who is faced with an impossible situation in which he must violently take action.

As time has progressed, the stakes and scope of these films has lessened. The last few Neeson movies have been fairly generic setups like Honest Thief or The Marksman, with boilerplate premises that suggest that Neeson is moving into assembly-line, interchangeable DTV material.

But like Charles Bronson before him, Liam Neeson is not just defined by a thirst for revenge. He’s defined by an unflappable movie-star persona that forces the films to adapt to him rather than the other way around. On paper, The Ice Road has a premise that doesn’t necessarily scream “weathered Irishman with a strict code of morals and ethics is forced to become violent to protect others ” but it seems that the continued existence of Liam Neeson has retrofitted a film based on a premise most familiar to the world from 11 seasons of a History Channel reality show into a bespoke Liam Neeson vehicle.

Neeson is Mike, a long-haul trucker who loses a lucrative permanent position after defending his intellectually disabled mechanic brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) from other truckers. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Mike accepts a near-kamikaze contract from his old friend Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne): drive to Northern Manitoba in order to deliver the equipment necessary to free a bunch of diamond miners who have been trapped underground by an explosion. The task is complicated by several factors: the cargo is extremely heavy, for one, and the only way to reach the mine is by driving through the titular ice roads, temporary roadways created by frozen waterways in the deep of winter. These ice roads have begun to thaw due to the season; to add to the impossibility, the miners have about 30 hours of oxygen left before they all perish underground. Flanked by troubled First Nations driver Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) whose brother is amongst the trapped miners and mining company lackey Varney (Benjamin Walker), Mike, Gurty and Goldenrod set out to accomplish the impossible.

Liam Neeson The Ice Road
Liam Neeson (right) in The Ice Road

There’s a certain exaggeration to the fundamental premise here, I think. While I don’t doubt that ice road trucking is an insanely dangerous profession, the film treats every ice road trucking expedition as something akin to a suicide mission. The delivery of mining equipment is literally treated by every character here as a matter of life and death, which is understandable in order to raise the stakes in a movie like this one, but which also serves to raise the stakes with whiplash-inducing rapidity. Film buffs will undoubtedly see a bit of a similarity in the premise of The Ice Road and the one of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic thriller The Wages of Fear (or William Friedkin’s remake Sorcerer, for that matter), but The Ice Road hits warpspeed pretty quickly to become an unholy cross between a 1970s trucking movie, The Revenant, Spielberg’s Duel and any standard-issue Neeson movie of the last decade.

Tension is therefore not really a concern once The Ice Road gets going. For a movie premised on three trucks needing to get somewhere as fast as possible, it features a lot of hand-to-hand combat and gunfights befitting a more traditional Liam Neeson vehicle. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see someone at least try to change the window dressing on one of these. The setting is fairly novel and director Jonathan Hensleigh manages to wring as much as he can out of the driving sequences, but The Ice Road’s setting cannot quite sustain its fevered desire to hit all the beats it requires as a vehicle for the ever-determined Neeson.

Nevertheless, if we’re going to continue having one-last-job B-movie vehicles for ageing action stars (and I literally cannot imagine a landscape in which we won’t), you could do a lot worse than set it in this world. Though it’s frequently ridiculous and overreaching in its emotions, The Ice Road is also by far the best movie about an Irish ice trucker I’ve ever seen. ■

The Ice Road is on Premium VOD as of Friday, June 25. Find more details about the film on its IMDB page. Watch the trailer here:

Liam Neeson stars in The Ice Road, directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

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