Digital Review – The Ice Road (2021)

After a quick glance at the title of The Ice Road, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s something missing. Truckers. The brakes were applied in 2017 to the History Channel’s long-running series about those steely-nerved drivers who take their heavy loads over frozen terrains, although re-runs are easy enough to find on TV. They’re essentially the inspiration behind Liam Neeson’s latest actioner, but it’s not just the title that has something missing.

After a methane explosion in a diamond mine in the frozen north of Manitoba, the race is on to get vital equipment to the site to free the survivors trapped underground. Their air is running out and the fastest route is over a series of notoriously risky and treacherous ice roads, man-made roads over frozen rivers. Experienced trucker Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburn) takes on out-of-work driver Mike (Neeson) and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), a wizard mechanic who suffers from aphasia as a result of serving in the Iraq War. Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) volunteers to drive the third rig as her brother is one of the trapped miners. The spring sunshine is already having an inevitable effect on the ice, but that’s just one of the problems faced by the crew, especially when they realise their mission is nowhere near as straightforward as they believed.

Although recent years have seen Neeson expand his range of roles – most notably in 2019’s Ordinary Love – he clearly hasn’t entirely given up on playing the action man. But it would probably be more accurate to describe him as the hero in The Ice Road as most of his action involves driving his enormous rig. All very sedentary stuff. Even when he goes full-on hero, rescuing his brother from under the ice, we never venture into the water with him and have to wait while he dives in and returns to the surface in a remarkably short space of time. It is, however, one of the few scenes not involving the trucks, providing momentary respite. The other relief from the never ending shots of them travelling across the icy terrain is the scenes involving the surviving miners underground. But, like the trucks above ground, they have the limited dramatic potential and by the time the film has passed the halfway mark, you’ve forgotten all about the human motivation for the trucks taking to the road.

The real problem with The Ice Road is that big trucks on a dodgy frozen terrain simply isn’t as exciting as it sounds. Perilously cracking ice has its moments, and there’s some effective shots of it moving en masse. That aside, most of action is a repetitious mix of stopping the rigs sinking in the ice, driving to fend off the opposition and manoeuvring upturned trucks with remarkable ease without a crack in the ice to be seen. Even with Neeson adding some star quality, there’s little in the way of character interest to stave off the growing tedium that goes with the overlong running time of 1 hour 40 minutes. And what sounds like an attempt to re-invent his Taken catch-phrase with “Now I’m angry….” is half-hearted, to say the least.

The Ice Road is simply a routine actioner with little in the way of thrills, despite the dramatic scenery. It also suffers from a plot hole big enough to swallow up a truck on the ice. We won’t reveal what it is: after all, you need something to keep you interested …..

★★


Thriller, Action | Cert: 12A | UK – Amazon Prime. USA – Netflix.| 25 June 2021 | Dir. Jonathan Hensleigh | Liam Neeson, Laurence Fishburn, Marcus Thomas, Amber Midthunder, Holt McCallany.