A couple of years ago screen legend Liam Neeson dared to mention the dreaded R word – retirement. At the time he said that he wouldn’t be retiring from the big screen completely but would be pulling away from action films now he was starting to age. Well I’m not sure whether or not he found sitting in a comfy chair in front of a fire not to his liking or if the acting bug was just too much of a pull but Neeson is back on the big screen this week in a film that sees him jumping off semi-trailers and once again wrestling bad guys.
The film is called The Ice Road and it is the latest creation from director/screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, a man who has been the creative force behind films such as Armageddon and The Punisher. In it Neeson (Taken) plays Mike McGann a skilled ice road trucker who finds himself unemployed after sticking up for his mentally scarred and handicapped brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas – You Kill Me) who in his own right is a talented mechanic.
Desperate for work Mike and Gurty agree to join forces with trucking company owner Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne – The Matrix) and fellow ice road trucker, Tantoo (Amber Midthunder – Hell Or High Water), in a desperate bid to get emergency machinery into far north Canada that will free a group of trapped miners.
The only issue is that the team are going to have to drive on ice roads so far into the ice truck season that many have started to thaw out meaning that the roads are almost impossible to navigate.
To be honest The Ice Road feels like a 1980s or 1990s action film, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Think about movies like Cliffhanger and Point Break and you soon realise that the secret to those films working was their believability. As a screenwriter Hensleigh captures that same essence here – the story itself is basic but he is a skilled enough writer to know the perfect obstacles to through in the path of his heroes.
Of course just like all of the greatest action films of the 80s and 90s The Ice Road needs more suspense than can be generated from melting ice so soon Hensleigh throws in a secondary story-line that soon makes it clear to the McGann boys that not only do they have the road itself as an enemy but that someone is also trying to sabotage their journey.
While most would describe The Ice Road as a simple action film there is so much to love about the film. First off Hensleigh creates the McGann Brothers as a duo that you can’t help but love. As an audience you end up feeling for Gurty and what he has to endure in life as a result of being a war veteran. The spin-off to that is you also find yourself warming to Mike who will do anything to protect his brother whether that means taking on bullies or enjoy picking on him through to doctors who want to lock him up in an institution.
The second thing that makes The Ice Road stand out over other action films is the naturalistic suspense that Hensleigh manages to create throughout the film. But great shots of tyres going over melting ice through to a good old fashioned shoot ‘em up car chase that doesn’t need cars dropping from planes etc to keep its audience on the edge of their seats. Hensleigh takes his audience on a wild ride with the characters on the screen but does it such a way that you can actually believe that it good happen.
As usual Neeson brings his A-Game to the film. Whether it be a scene with him running from a truck before it explodes or unleashing on a doctor that has just called his brother worthless Neeson never misses a beat and he is well supported by Thomas and Midthunder who both announce themselves as stars to watch in the future. Amber Midthunder relishes on the fact that the screenplay shows no signs of misogyny and instead allows her to be just as much as a hero as Liam Neeson rather than relegating her to the role of side-kick like many action films would have.
The Ice Road is certainly not a cinematic masterpiece but it is certainly a serviceable action film that a must see for those that cannot get enough of Liam Neeson in action roles.