The Ice Road is a strangely thrill-less Liam Neeson thriller that is difficult to write about, simply because it’s rather dull. It plays like a heroic true story or something until about halfway through, when it decides to turn into a different movie, and the truth of the matter is, neither movie is particularly interesting. It brings out a solid Neeson performance, but it’s in service of a movie that you’ll forget as you’re watching it.
This is Neeson’s third film to be released since the pandemic, following the mediocre Honest Thief and the somewhat enjoyable Logan knockoff, The Marksman. Unlike those movies, The Ice Road isn’t a theatrical release; it went straight to Netflix. Like those though, this film was released with little to no buzz, and it’s yet another film in which Neeson is forced to spring into action and save the day. Look, the guy is good at it- the second he delivered that speech in Taken, it was clear that his career was about to take quite the turn. Also, the guy looks magnificent, having not aged much in the decades he’s been acting. Yet he’s 69 years old, and one can’t help but feel like it might be time for him to move on.
The film opens with a diamond mine in Canada. It collapses, and the miners are left stuck until someone can come to the rescue. Who better than Liam Neeson? Yet this isn’t an issue that can be resolved with fists. No no. Neeson plays Mike, a hard-ass truck driver who really only has a soft spot for his mentally challenged brother. To get to the miners, Mike and a group of other semi-truck drivers (one of which is played by Laurence Fishburne) must drive their semis across the icy terrain (hence the title, which features plenty of ice roads) and avalanches and what not. Yet along the way, it appears as if one of the drivers isn’t what they seem, and may be trying to sabotage the mission.
The film, if the rating was any indication, doesn’t work. The dialogue feels corny and forced. It’s a film that a lot of the time depends upon its pretty imagery (the cinematography is from Clint Eastwood’s usual cameraman, Tom Stern), yet for every beautiful image of the snowy terrain, there is a somewhat laughable shot of the visual effects, which considering what films can do (did you see Tenet? Love it or loathe it, it was a beaut) is kind of unacceptable. Not to mention, the reveal of the villain not only comes as little surprise, but the villain is also rather cartoonish. Maybe he comes across this way because the film somewhat grounds itself in reality from the offset, and the inclusion of a villain just seems silly.
Well, silly for a Liam Neeson movie.
What’s weird about The Ice Road is that everything remotely suspenseful or thrilling here seems to be muted. These characters are knocking at death’s door a number of times, and yet what’s weird is that you’re not only never really left on the edge of your seat, but you don’t really care. Seriously, a pretty major talent is killed off pretty early on, and it’s so underwhelming it doesn’t even sink in that it’s just happened. Not much time is really taken for us to get to know these people; the film isn’t a true story, so we don’t really have a personal connection to them before the movie starts. So, what is the point? Maybe this film would play better in a theatre, where you can experience the roar of the audio. Yet it was probably released on Netflix as something to pass the time, and since Neeson is headlining they assume people will put it on to pass the time.
Pass the time, it does. But not well.
Neeson isn’t to blame here. It’s often hard for me to point blame at an actor, especially one whose work is typically enjoyable, because if we know the actor is usually good, then the material is probably to blame. This happens to be the case with The Ice Road. What works about Neeson as an action hero is that he happens to be a good actor too. Before his Taken days, he delivered strong work in Kinsey, Schindler’s List, Nell, and so on. That being said, I have enjoyed quite a few of his post Taken movies too. I thoroughly enjoyed Cold Pursuit, Unknown, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Non Stop. He has a presence in the movies that is comforting; he is cool, he kicks ass, he’s handsome, and he’s a damn fine actor. Yet for the past few years, there’s been an interview of his that has been on my mind. In 2017, Neeson announced that he was going to stop doing action movies. “Guys, I’m sixty-f**cking-five. Audiences are eventually going to go, ‘come on,’” he said. It’s hard to say, but as a Neeson devotee, it is time that he returned to serious acting; I would just hate for him to end up a punchline. Movies like The Ice Road aren’t helping.