The Ice Road: Formulaic script a slippery slope

The Ice Road. M, 109 minutes. 3 stars.

A scene from The Ice Road, starring Liam Neeson. Picture: Supplied

A scene from The Ice Road, starring Liam Neeson. Picture: Supplied

Liam Neeson once again displays a particular set of skills in this road movie set in the remote Canadian back-country. In this case, those skills are just being really good at driving trucks.

Ever since the release and cult success of Taken in 2008, I don't think there has been a film critic or film review of a Liam Neeson film that didn't try to pull out a version of his iconic "particular set of skills" line, and I'm not about to buck the trend now.

Close to the Arctic Circle, two-dozen workers have been trapped underground in a diamond mine following a methane explosion that killed a handful of their colleagues. With about 30 hours of oxygen left for the men, it is up to company logistics man Jim (Lawrence Fishburne) to get heavy well-sinking equipment the site.

In the depth of winter and with its weight, the equipment cannot be flown in and must be driven by truck on the ice roads over a series of frozen lakes. The usual freight haulers don't work in the dangerous conditions of winter and so Jim is desperately recruiting any drivers in the vicinity up to the task.

That's how out-of-work long-haul driver Mike (Liam Neeson) and his mechanic brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) find themselves with some much-needed work. Gurty speaks in a child-like manner, interpreted by his brother where needed, a result of the PTSD Gurty earned as an Iraq war veteran. Protective brother Mike has lost a series of jobs due to the care he has to willingly give to his brother, so this dangerous job is much-needed for the pair's survival.

Also hired for the rescue mission is a former employee of the mining company, the Native rights campaigner Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a willing recruit considering her brother is one of the trapped miners.

With the risk to the vehicles, Jim drives a third truck as they set off convoy-style, hoping to improve on the law of averages and see at least one wellhead arrive at the mine with enough time to save the men.

Joining Amber in her truck is Varney (Benjamin Walker), a numbers man for the mine insurance company whose job is to make sure the work is carried out.

The freezing cold and the distances to be covered aren't the only dangers as the drivers take on ice storms, mechanical issues, cracking ice and a series of challenges in their way.

If all of that weren't enough, it also appears there is a snake in their midst.

The Ice Road is a pretty formulaic experience, a by-the-numbers film that follows in the tyre tracks of a number of films that drove these icy roads before it.

Writer director Jonathan Hensleigh gives generous nods throughout to the classic 1953 Henri-Georges Clouzot thriller The Wages of Fear which saw two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine drive through remote mountainous country with the explosive needed to help extinguish some well fires burning out of control.

Hensleigh throws everything at these truckers as they make their journey, everything feeling implausible unless you've watched yourself a bunch of Ice Road Trucker episodes and you feel like you're an expert of the dangers of hauling freight in these conditions.

The location filming looks authentically freezing and the performances are as solid as possible for actors swaddled in a ton of warm weather gear or sat in truck cabins.

The soundtrack is full of country-strong tunes that, along with a handful of the hokey lines of dialogue about the troubles of the workin' folks, seem to be developed by a committee of marketing executives to appeal to Trumpian heartlanders. I may be cynical.

Liam Neeson is, as ever, a stoic and credible leading man. Like his character in this and every other recent film, he is dependable and the kind of bloke you're happy to spend some time with.

This story Formulaic script a slippery slope first appeared on The Canberra Times.