(2.5 / 5)
A loose remake of The Wages of Fear, The Ice Road reconceptualizes George Clouzot’s seminal 1953 thriller as a Liam Neeson vehicle and transports the action to the icy wastes way, way north of the equator.
When a methane explosion at a diamond mine leaves miners, including the dependable Holt McCallany,1 trapped and rapidly running out of air.
Neeson, back on the ice after Cold Pursuit, plays Mike McCann, one half of a trucking duo alongside his brother-mechanic Gurty (Marcus Thomas). Fired from their jobs after an altercation,2 Mike accepts a dangerous gig delivering one of three 18-foot-long, 25-tonne wellheads to the site of the cave-in.
The huge pay involved and that only one wellhead is actually required – the other two are in case of “tactical reduncancy” – gives you some idea of the risks involved.
Joining them on the rapidly-thawing ice road are businessman Jim Goldenrod (Lawrence Fishburne, bringing a wry, much-needed gravitas); Tantoo, a young, Native American woman bailed out after a protest (Amber Midthunder, stuck fighting ostensibly for a cause that’s given no dramatic weight), and actuary Tom Varnay (Benjamin Walker), who’s there on behalf of the money-men.3
With all the pieces in place, we should be set for a lean, merciless exercise in tension4 as the truckers struggle to get their precious cargo, not to mention themselves, to their destination in one piece. Instead, The Ice Road becomes an uphill struggle, figuratively speaking. Ice ripples and cracks, Neeson growls, but the set-pieces and forgettable and few and far between.
As a writer, Jonathan Hensleigh’s script focuses too much on thinly-sketched characters – primarily, Mike blames Gurty for the loss for their jobs – and not enough on the mechanics of the jeopardy they are facing. Just as the film seems to be getting into gear, the plot diverts instead into corporate intrigue. As a director, Hensleigh clearly has larger ambitions5, but is constrained by a clearly modest budget.
Ironically, for a film that makes all the more explicit the dangers of rampant capitalism, The Ice Road would benefit immensely from being that bit more businesslike.
The Ice Road is now available to stream on Prime Video (EU) or Netflix (global)
- Between this, Greenland (also on Prime Video), and Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Wrath of Man, he’s currently Hollywood’s go-to guy for playing world-weary, blue-collar pros.
- Gurty, a veteran who suffers from aphasia due to a war wound, is a target of ridicule and Mike is, well, Liam Neeson.
- SPOILER – in a plot twist more transparent than the road they’re driving on, he turns out to be a baddie.
- The original film has perhaps the tensest sequence in all cinema – in which one truck, which can’t slow down or else it’ll explode, is rapidly gaining on the truck in front, which can’t speed up or else it’ll explode. Ingeniously simple, but devilishly effective.
- He worked on a slew of ’90s blockbusters, such as Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Rock, Con Air, and Armageddon, to name but a few.