Seemingly defined at this point in his career by the grizzly, no-nonsense avenger-types he encapsulates – first realised in the 2008 actioner Taken – The Ice Road eases up on Liam Neeson‘s menacing persona and gives his somewhat-everyman a blue collar temperament.
He’s still out there risking his life, mind you, but it’s comparatively slightly more grounded in reality than the aforementioned Taken, its increasingly wild sequels, or the likes of Non-Stop or The Commuter, which kept Neeson contained to a singular setting against an exaggerated concept.
There’s potentially villainous work at play – hidden agendas and masked men with a penchant for violence eventually make their presence known – but for a large portion of The Ice Road‘s 110 minute running time, Neeson’s Mike McCann and a slew of other experienced ice truckers – including an authoritative Laurence Fishburne, Marcus Thomas as Mike’s aphasia-afflicted brother, and Amber Midthunder as a young woman, Tantoo, whose morals remain questionable throughout – keep on the straight and narrow as they head towards a Canadian mine to rescue 26 workers who are trapped due to an explosion collapsing them inside.
Despite the action-leaning story, the presence of Neeson, and the credentials of writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh (who has penned such scripts as Die Hard With A Vengeance, the original Jumanji and Armageddon, as well as directing 2004’s The Punisher), The Ice Road is surprisingly light on set-pieces and choreographed carnage. Audiences hoping for the standard Neeson fare are likely to be underwhelmed – though if you have seen either The Marksman or Honest Thief, you’d know his latest efforts have decreased in spectacle considerably – with this film aiming for a more emotional current.
Ironically, the film is better served when it focuses on Mike’s relationship with his PTSD-suffering brother or highlighting the desperate urgency of Tantoo wanting to reach the mine in order to save her brother (Martin Sensmeier). The action itself comes off as rather standard – though there is a rather intense midway sequence involving the trucks being linked together that causes havoc when the ice underneath starts to give way – with none of the set-up paying off with an extended mentality.
Depending how you look at The Ice Road‘s approach to its action content, it’s either underwhelming in its simple depictions or somehow refreshing, given that not all combat sequences have to be indulged in. The technicality behind these sequences is ultimately what earns an impression, with the film being shot in freezing conditions with as much practicality as possible. As it stands, The Ice Road will find an audience who’ll be readily satisfied by its predictable nature and by-the-numbers temperament, but the heyday of Neeson expressing his “particular set of skills” has truly passed.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Ice Road is screening in Australian cinemas from August 12th, 2021, Covid-pending