The Ice Road delivers action, suspense, Liam Neeson, and even Laurence Fishburne! Sometimes, you just want to get away from it all, and The Ice Road offers escapist entertainment, with a bonus for these summer months – vistas of endless snow and ice. The film was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, known for his action writing on Jumanji, Armageddon and The Punisher.
Starting off with a bang, a group of miners is trapped following a methane explosion at the Katka Diamond Mine in Northern Manitoba, Canada. There is only enough oxygen to last them for 30 hours, so the clock is ticking. The problem is that in order to extricate them from the tunnel, 300 feet of pipe and an 18-foot gas wellhead must be brought up to the remote mine. The only way to do that is for a huge truck to haul the heavy cargo along the treacherous ice roads. These are plowed paths on lakes that have frozen over, but the route is far from safe. The lakes are not frozen through, the ice is just 30 inches thick. Put a heavy truck on top of that ice and the concentrated weight – for example, if the truck is stopped or drives too slowly – can make the ice crack. But that is not the only danger. If they drive too fast, they run the risk of creating a pressure wave beneath the surface, making the ice buckle. Who would take on this kind of risk? Apparently, there are ice road truckers who do this all the time. Well, not all the time – only in winter, when the ice is at its most solid and reliable. But the movie is set in the third week of April, and trucking operator Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) is scraping the bottom of the barrel for drivers. Most of his regular drivers are already gone for the season, and the risk of making such a trip in late April is enormous.
Enter Mike Barnes (Liam Neeson), who, luckily for Goldenrod, is just desperate enough to take on the job. Neeson’s ability to radiate intelligence and sensitivity in the most action-packed, disastrous situations has made the 69-year-old actor immensely desirable in the genre. Mike looks after his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraq war veteran whose PTSD and aphasia make holding down a steady job a huge challenge, despite his skills as a mechanic. The relationship between the brothers is depicted with authenticity, with gruff affection, friction, resentment, and limitless devotion.
To ensure the arrival of the wellhead, Goldenrod decides to send out three trucks, in the hope that at least one will successfully make the journey. To that end, he recruits Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) a Native American activist and experienced driver. Midthunder brings a spirited surliness to the character, that adds spark to the journey. Not one to send others on dangerous missions that he would not take on himself, Goldenrod drives the third truck.
One might think that the natural dangers are fearsome enough, but as the film moves between scenes of the trapped miners and the fearsome journey on the ice road, it soon becomes apparent that forces far more treacherous than nature are at play. The vicarious thrills of driving a massive truck on an ice road already had me on the edge of my seat, and the non-stop action that followed really had my heart racing.
The Ice Road
Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh; Cinematography: Tom Stern; Editing: Douglas Crise; Music: Max Aruj; Cast: Liam Neeson, Benjamin Walker, Laurence Fishburne, Amber Midthunder, Marcus Thomas, Holt McCallany, Maratin Sensmeier, Matt McCoy