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The Ice Road (2021)


Some actors represent the ruffty-tuffty men of the world. Some even avoid the hideous men-being-men schtick the Americans love (Chicago Fire, The Shield… I’m looking at you). They walk the line of angst, anguish and virtue whilst punching people in the face. And man it up at the bar, strong eyes glistening. And talk awkwardly to the archetypical beauties in their lives, whilst managing their sex symbol status with an air of bemusement…

And that is exactly how I saw myself in the days after old Jack’s mid-life crisis (there was a motorbike and a leathery swagger. Old Mrs Jack was persuaded to pour herself lovingly across my…pudgy frame… Or to turn up at the office in boots, a raincoat and nothing else… or both. I grew out of it ok, now fuck off). So – Liam Neeson, essentially. These days he has the decency to look like a very old, very tired millionaire-man-of-the-men. And old Jack rather adores that. His films should all be called Grrrrr (2021).

In Neeson’s defence, he’s had a rough midlife of tolerating the real world and adding grufffty-ruffty-tufftiness to increasingly untomatoed films. Like that great rump of middle-aged, straight, white men, the 48% of the west lest you feel like crying for this minority, he’s paid most of the tax, maintained most of the society, and skied a long, cold, cruel path to The Ice Road.

Shame about the films, really.

The Ice Road popped up on Amazon Prime one bitter afternoon. Old Jack had been told he ruled the world like a million shits before him – by Charmaine the doctor who used to be Charles. Something my sex, actually it may have been gender, not sure, perhaps the multiplicity of genders that make up my sex, anyway, something we did with the toilets denied the existence of millions. Then she picked me off the table and popped me back in my wheelchair and away I skittered to Neeson’s simpler world of trapped miners and a rescue mission across frozen ocean…

For Neeson is Mike, brother of war-damaged Gurty (Marcus Thomas, in a rather tasteless cookie-cutter role), friend of the cleverest-of-the-fellowship, Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne; he dies on the road, fake leg flailing, lorry and life sucked through broken ice into cold, cold waters). Their mission is to get emergency drill heads across the chilly bits of Canada to a mine where lots of miners are trapped in the depths.

I know! Simple, clear and safely masculine. Old Jack relaxed into the safe plot, professional performances and comfortingly expected surprises. A young woman accompanies them, Tantoo (Amber Midthunder; who sticks to being an obvious good person despite the accusations and restraints that come her way). She is the sister of one of the miners and – in a significantly different decade – would have been banging Neeson an hour in with an ice-wobbling climax of tension and lust. That would have been in 1997, when Midthunder was busy being born. Their relationship is therefore one of professionals with a joint mission and a common enemy. And a dash of weirdness.

There’s also an actuary.

SPOILER AHOY. Ok. This is obvious from the moment we meet the guy, but here’s your chance to look away…

The actuary did it. Yup. A loss adjuster come technical insurance bore turns out to be a bad human being. Fishburne followed the fishes cos this cad did something bad to his rig (not sure what, but metal popped and that’d panic old Jack on a concrete motorway, let alone one of ice). Benjamin Walker is Tom Varnay, sweetly dry at the start; harbinger of special effects and brutality as the story progresses. Neeson and Midthunder’s nemesis, he goes full lorry-boiler for an hour. And he has skills.

Now. Mr Neeson. Whilst undoubtedly a movie star of style, height and manliness, not unlike my own, he is also on the way to the home. It’ll be a while yet, but old Jack here, Tooting Thomas and the ladies of the TV room recognised his visual fragility. And much as it is nice to see a senior gentleman beat the living shit out of a far younger actuary, and for quite so long, it’s about as believable as Orinoco the Womble getting some. Growing old is an oddly private thing of ear hair, , fragility, invisibility and cancers. So let’s just say Neeson’s resilience is unrealistic…you’ll be needing those reserves of credibility to get to the end.

The Ice Road is a fun film for about two-thirds. Then it gets very climaxy and a smidge too long. Neeson is terrific if laughably super-powered. Midthunder has a pleasing career ahead of her if she dodges the girl-in-a-man’s-film DVD bin. Fishburne may just be on the wrong end of this film’s memes. And the plot beyond the plot – of bad men in corporations – offers the hope of complexity without delivering.

If this film gives you nightmares, they’ll be of avalanches and undulating ice. Or perhaps just physics lectures, questionable special effects and an underlying competence. For Neeson brings the last, and it’s rather comforting.

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