Disagreement is an important part of life, love and film criticism. It’s come to my attention that the latest film from Liam Neeson, The Ice Road, a high-end purchase for Netflix streaming services in the US, yet Amazon Prime in the UK, is getting some pretty uncharitable reviews. Perhaps this is to do with the kind of obloquy that Neeson unleashed by confessing that he might, as a younger man, have been influenced by racism. Some are keen to make him out to be a fallen hero for admitting weakness. Or perhaps it’s because even a pandemic doesn’t seem to stop Neeson; even during a worldwide lockdown, we saw his late career action-hero everyman still a hardy perennial with the releases of Honest Thief, Made in Italy and The Marksman.
So The Ice Road may suffer from market saturation, and maybe the cool kids don’t see the irony anymore, but for stranded couch potatoes, Liam Neeson still kicks ass. A distinguished actor of enormous power, range and sensitivity, 2008’s Taken advanced Neeson into a select group of aging action heroes like Charles Bronson, who transcended genre and budget to be beloved by a public thirsty for a decent man to empathise with as he revenged himself of miscreants.
The Ice Road fuses man-on-a-mission elements of The Wages of Fear and Sorcerer, with Neeson as Mike McCann, a blue-collar truck driver who takes on a dangerous assignment; he joins a team of truckers heading up The Ice Road with three vital well-heads which might just save some trapped miners. It’s a race against time, but the trucks are dispensable, and so are their drivers. So it’s no big surprise that Laurence Fishburne, spoiler alert, doesn’t last long, but there’s also a double-agent who turns McCann’s mission on its head…
With simplistic anti-corporate sentiment, a half-brother with PTSD to care for and a Native American gal-pal (Amber Midthunder), McCann has been fashioned in the modern, diverse sense of heroism, but his actions are straight up Neeson. Never giving up, never defeated, always trying to do the right thing; it’s no wonder that Neeson is a brand. Jonathan Hensleigh’s film has some weird geography and some hokey effects, sure, but when you’ve got a happy centre like Neeson, who would want to complain? We all need a hero right now, and while The Ice Road isn’t up there with Neeson’s best, it’s good enough to be going on with.