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Ever since Taken, Liam Neeson’s career as an action hero has led to both impressive highs and loathsome lows. While the man himself has never lost a step pivoting into this line of film, the scripts he’s been given to work with don’t always provide the most intriguing material to showcase his talents properly. It’s unfortunate to report that despite an interesting concept at the heart of The Ice Road, there isn’t enough tread on this film’s tires to get too far down the road without breaking down.
Most of The Ice Road’s conflict centers around a diamond mine collapse in Canada, the event requiring a crew of no-nonsense, hard drivers to drive a lot of crucial equipment in a short amount of time. Hired by Goldenrod (Lawrence Fishburne), this band of intrepid heroes includes Mike (Liam Neeson), a man who drifts from job to job in order to care of his brother; Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) a woman whose own brother is trapped in the mine; and Vernay (Benjamin Walker), an actuary who works for the mining corporation operating the site. With treacherous conditions, and a twist or two hiding in the framework, The Ice Road knows what it’s trying to do; it just doesn’t know how to get there.
There’s an attempt to make The Ice Road both an action thriller and a drama, and neither work out in the end.
Throughout The Ice Road, there are two threads that play out simultaneously. On one hand, you have Liam Neeson and Lawrence Fishburne racing against the clock with their crews in hopes of helping save a cadre of trapped miners. The other storyline sees those working for the corporation that actually owns the mine trying to figure out what to do about this disaster, that may or may not have happened because of some sort of negligence.
Right there, the tracks are laid out for both the ice driving thrills of an action movie, and the hard hitting moral dilemmas of a corporate thriller. There are titles that have mixed these sorts of thrills together effectively in the past, and writer/director Jonathan Hensligh has experience with that rodeo himself thanks to his screenplay work on the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. None of the charm or excitement of that film has made it into The Ice Road, as it feels like there is a rush to get to the end of the story with as little obstacle as possible.
With the acting talent assembled in The Ice Road, it’s amazing how little you actually care for the characters.
The Ice Road has assembled a cast of actors who deliver performances as compelling as their capable of. Liam Neeson and Lawrence Fishburne, as usual, give you the gruff sort of likability you’d expect from either of them in any given role. Not to mention, Amber Midthunder and Benjamin Walker engage in a rather entertaining double act, where snark flows freely and there’s some laughs to be had.
Even with the star power on display, however, complemented by impressive practical effects work, The Ice Road’s story isn’t developed enough to let you truly feel the stakes. You want to care for the protagonists when there’s a setback or an emotional moment on the line, and that’s more a testament to the actors brought in to try and make that happen for the flat characters. The failures to develop the story and support the diverse personalities with which we’re presented perhaps the greatest flaw in the finished product.
The Ice Road is either further proof that the Liam Neeson action boom has ended, or a new set of writers is needed to take the wheel.
The Ice Road, for better or worse, always circles back to the fact that we seem to be nearing the end of the Liam Neeson action boom. While the man himself hasn’t lost his charm on screen, the work that’s been handed to him has. As this current film feels like a sonic and visual wallpaper that never amounts to any serious dramatic stakes, it’s either time for Mr. Neeson to shift into a new genre of movies, or find himself a stable writing team that can consistently deliver in his wheelhouse.
If there’s a bright side to the release of The Ice Road, it’s the fact that a brilliant cast and some beautiful scenery can be seen trying their hardest to sell what you’re watching. While it won’t take up too much of your time, this Liam Neeson action movie runs out of gas quite early, and coasts on fumes to the finish line. Despite its best efforts, The Ice Road might leave its audience rather cold as the credits roll and the suggestions for their next Netflix adventure pop up on the screen.