The Ice Road
Starring: Liam Neeson, Holt McCallany, Martin Sensmeir, Marcus Thomas, Benjamin Walker.
After a remote diamond mine collapses in far northern Canada, a 'big-rig' ice road driver (Neeson) must lead an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners. Contending with thawing waters and a massive storm, they discover the real threat is one they never saw coming.
In a diamond mine in northern Canada that operates under an ongoing threat of combustible methane gas, a spark ignites causing an explosion, leaving a group of miners (HOLT McCALLANY and MARTIN SENSMEIR) trapped underground with only thirty-six hours of oxygen left. Ice road veteran Mike McCann (LIAM NEESON), along with his younger brother Gurty (MARCUS THOMAS), a gifted mechanic though impacted by aphasia from a war injury, join a hastily assembled team of skilled ice road drivers (LAURENCE FISHBURNE and AMBER MIDTHUNDER) who embark on a dangerous rescue mission. Their job is to drive across an ocean of thin ice in eighteen-wheeler trucks to deliver lifesaving drilling wellheads to the mine before the oxygen runs out on the trapped miners. Unbeknownst to the team, the operators of the mine plant a rogue assassin (BENJAMIN WALKER) amongst the rescue drivers in order to sabotage the mission and keep the miners from escaping and revealing the truth - that the company had long conspired to let the mine run unsafely to increase profits while intentionally ignoring the lethal methane levels and directly causing the catastrophic explosion. Mike and the team are forced to conquer stalled engines, cracking ice, violent pressure waves, deadly explosions, entire big rig trucks falling into the dark frozen waters, white-outs, an avalanche, and the death of their operation leader, all of which culminates in an epic showdown between Mike and the assassin, who seeks to bury them all beneath Lake Winnipeg. Finally defeating the assassin, Mike and the team deliver the wellheads just as the miners are on their last liters of oxygen, and the mine operators are exposed for their crimes.
ABOUT THE ICE ROAD:
The Ice Road is an action movie set in a unique environment. The story begins with a diamond mine explosion in remote northern Canada, leaving dozens of miners trapped underground with limited oxygen and only a short amount of time before the air supply runs out. Heavy equipment is required to rescue them, and the only way to transport it is in three semi-trucks across an ice road – at the close of ice road season.
Bart Rosenblatt, a Producer on the film, says it's exactly the kind of project he and his partners were looking to do: "We had worked with Jonathan Hensleigh before on a movie called Kill the Irishman – Jonathan directed that film – and so we wanted to work with him again. He has a great imagination, and he's a wonderful screenwriter who has written a lot of big action movies."
"Jonathan had always wanted to do a project inspired by The Wages of Fear about a group of guys who have to get over a mountain with a truck filled with nitroglycerin, and any wrong move they make could be the end. He was also interested in doing something like Of Mice and Men with a special needs character, and so we came up with The Ice Road. He wrote an original treatment based on those two ideas, and from that we went and developed a screenplay," says Rosenblatt.
It waswas decadesdecades agoago thatthat JonathanJonathan HensleighHensleigh firstfirst becamebecame inspiredinspired byby thethe idea:idea: "Ever"Ever sincesince II waswas aa youngyoung filmfilm fan,fan, II waswas interestedinterested inin aa FrenchFrench filmfilm byby HenriHenri--GeorgesGeorges ClouzotClouzot calledcalled TheThe WagesWages ofof FearFear.. II sawsaw itit onon televisiontelevision whenwhen II waswas aboutabout ten,ten, andand it'sit's becomebecome aa minorminor classicclassic aboutabout aa bandband ofof loserslosers whowho areare hiredhired toto taketake nitroglycerinnitroglycerin acrossacross aa mountainmountain range.range. IIveve beenbeen obsessedobsessed withwith thisthis filmfilm everever since.since. ItIt waswas remaderemade byby WilliamWilliam FriedkinFriedkin inin thethe 1980s1980s asas Sorcerer.Sorcerer. Friedkin,Friedkin, whomwhom II havehave knownknown throughoutthroughout thethe years,years, waswas alsoalso obsessedobsessed withwith thisthis film."film."
"The notionnotion ofof mismatchedmismatched blueblue--collarcollar peoplepeople whowho havehave toto gogo onon aa journeyjourney togethertogether –– oneone soso perilousperilous thatthat nono oneone withoutwithout properproper motivationsmotivations wouldwould dodo itit –– fascinatedfascinated me.me. II wantedwanted toto makemake anan OfOf MiceMice andand MenMen crossedcrossed withwith TheThe WagesWages ofof FearFear.. ItItss beenbeen aa 4848--yearyear journey,"journey," sayssays Hensleigh.Hensleigh.
Producer Al Corley also liked the inspiration from The Wages of Fear: "We didn't want to make the same picture, but something inspired by it. We liked the world of these tough, visceral, blue-collar guys, and thought that an ice road would be a good environment for an action picture in that it's almost like another world."
It was also important to have strong relationships in the story, says Corley: "Audiences are drawn to memorable characters, whether it's an action movie, or a suspense, or a drama. It's the unspoken moments between the dialogue and between the actions. The greatest movies have characters where we can put ourselves in their shoes, and you hope good things will happen to these ordinary people."
"In The Ice Road, here's a guy who's doing the best he can to take care of his brother, who's put his own life on hold for his brother, and he finally gets a break. It's what sets The Ice Road apart from just being about a truck racing across ice or around a mountain. That's what makes this movie a bit different, and I think people will relate to that," says Corley.
The Ice Road was shot in Canada, utilizing locations in the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. It was shot under real conditions on real ice roads, making it imperative to work with a director like Hensleigh says Bart Rosenblatt: "Jonathan is very specific in how he shoots things and thinks very visually. He brings not only a lot of creative ideas to the project but also a lot of mechanical ideas for how to actually execute very difficult scenes."
"Dealing with semi-trucks has been an incredible logistical feat. We have three 18-wheeler rigs in the movie – a red one, black one, and yellow one – and they actually become characters in the movie. The frozen environment that the film was shot in, and the ice roads, they also become characters in the film," says Bart.
Jonathan HensleighHensleigh waswas onon aa missionmission toto makemake itit allall looklook asas realreal asas possible:possible: "I"I wantedwanted thisthis toto bebe realityreality--based,based, toto aa 'T'.'T'. II insistedinsisted toto mymy teamteam thatthat wewe havehave nono anglesangles thatthat aren'taren't achievableachievable byby aa filmfilm crew,crew, oror anyany anglesangles notnot possiblepossible throughthrough physics.physics. II didn'tdidn't wantwant physicallyphysically impossibleimpossible angles.angles. II wantedwanted itit toto look,look, visually,visually, likelike aa documentary."documentary."
"When youyou shootshoot aa picturepicture aboutabout drivingdriving vehicles,vehicles, andand youyourere talkingtalking aboutabout aa driverdriver andand aa passenger,passenger, andand thatthatss hardhard toto dodo withoutwithout beingbeing inin thethe cab.cab. YouYou cancan taketake youryour vehiclevehicle andand mountmount itit onon aa cameracamera carcar –– aa trailertrailer –– andand pullpull it.it. ItIt freesfrees thethe actoractor toto justjust actact withoutwithout tryingtrying toto drive.drive. TheThe challengechallenge is,is, theythey dondontt makemake mountsmounts forfor 1818--wheelwheel semisemi--tractors.tractors. SoSo,, wewe werewere stuck.stuck. TheThe obviousobvious solutionsolution waswas poorpoor manmanss process'process' –– greengreen outout thethe sideside windowswindows andand backback andand shootshoot thethe backgroundbackground separately.separately. ButBut II hatehate that.that. II wantedwanted realreal backgroundbackground –– thethe iceice road,road, thethe mountainmountain drivingdriving sequences,sequences, II wantedwanted itit allall toto looklook real,"real," sayssays Jonathan.Jonathan.
"We gotgot aa numbernumber ofof brandbrand newnew 20202020 KenworthKenworth bigbig rigsrigs –– thethe fullfull 1818--wheelwheel hullshulls –– painted,painted, withwith allall thethe interiorsinteriors intactintact andand donateddonated toto thethe moviemovie toto mountmount onon FordFord FF--550s550s andand mademade ''gliders.'gliders.' DownstairsDownstairs wewe hadhad aa stuntstunt driverdriver drivedrive themthem everywhere,everywhere, andand upstairupstairs,s, ourour actorsactors werewere ableable toto actact whilewhile simulatingsimulating driving,driving, withwith realreal backgroundbackground passingpassing throughthrough thethe windowswindows andand windshield.windshield. ThisThis isis inin 98%98% ofof ourour picture.picture. WeWe havehave nono greengreen screenscreen backgroundbackground oror 'poor'poor manmanss process'process' andand IImm veryvery pleasedpleased withwith that.that. ThatThatss aa completelycompletely novel,novel, uniqueunique processprocess withwith thesethese bigbig rigs.rigs. IImm notnot suresure ifif ititss beenbeen donedone before."before."
Undertaking such a feat would require the right location, and Al Corley knew where to look: "We needed snow, cold, and ice roads, and didn't want to shoot this as a VFX kind of film. So, we had it in mind to shoot practical stunts, practical locations. The script was also set in Canada, so it made sense to shoot there. I'd shot a film in Winnipeg about 15 years ago called You Kill Me so we were already familiar with Manitoba."
"It was great for us that the lake where we made the ice roads was only an hour and a half away from a city – Winnipeg – so it made it possible for us to use a real ice road. We could take advantage of that instead of having to travel to three or four different locations. This made things really easy for us. The ice road location was close enough to Winnipeg that we could have the whole crew there, and also look like what we needed," says Corley.
"We may be the only film that filmed Winnipeg for Winnipeg. Usually we're asked 'where does the story really take place' so when we respond that it actually does take place in Winnipeg, it stands out. The running joke of the shoot was, who would write a film set in Winnipeg and then shoot it there in winter? Us!"
"The Winnipeg crew is great. They work hard, want to learn, have great attitudes, and nothing seems to get them down even though most of our shooting is out in the elements. In Hollywood, people can get jaded. People in Winnipeg seem to really care about their work and making a good movie, and are happy to be working together."
Jonathan HensleighHensleigh sayssays thatthat ManitobaManitoba waswas thethe onlyonly placeplace theythey couldcould havehave shotshot thethe film:film: "It"Itss thethe realreal LakeLake Winnipeg.Winnipeg. ItIt freezesfreezes inin December,December, andand byby JanuaryJanuary thethe iceice isis soso thickthick youyou cancan drivedrive bigbig rigsrigs acrossacross it.it. ItIt affordsaffords allall thethe infrastructureinfrastructure forfor makingmaking thethe film.film. SoSo,, wewe havehave chasechase scenes,scenes, aa trucktruck exploding,exploding, withwith allall realreal KenworthKenworth bigbig rigs,rigs, whichwhich hashas nevernever beenbeen donedone beforebefore.. WeWe willwill havehave singularsingular shotsshots uniqueunique toto thisthis film."film."
For the Director of Photography, Bart Rosenblatt says they wanted to work with the best: "Tom Stern's reputation proceeds him. He has made so many wonderful films – so many films that have been nominated for Oscars. He's made many of Clint Eastwood's movies. He shot The Hunger Games. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Changeling."
"So, when we were looking for a Director of Photography for this project, Tom Stern had the character side of it, he knew how to shoot character films, and how to shoot action films. He's a brilliant DP who sets up a landscape beautifully and knows how to frame a photo so beautifully. He also shoots very quickly, so the combination of those things made him a fantastic choice."
Jonathan HensleighHensleigh hadhad heardheard aboutabout TomTom SternStern forfor years,years, asas ClintClint EastwoodEastwoodss secretsecret weapon:weapon: "He's"He's donedone picturepicture afterafter picturepicture forfor Eastwood,Eastwood, andand IIdd heardheard aboutabout hishis legendarylegendary speed.speed. HeHe hashas anan abilityability toto lightlight offoff thethe cuffcuff andand doesdoes notnot carrycarry aa lightlight metermeter –– II dondontt believebelieve hehe eveneven ownsowns aa lightlight meter.meter. He'sHe's ableable toto lightlight setupssetups asas youyou mmoveove throughthrough thethe dayday withwith changingchanging light,light, withoutwithout aa lightlight meter.meter. IIveve nevernever seenseen anyoneanyone dodo that.that. HeHe hashas thisthis alienalien abilityability toto knowknow wherewhere thethe sunsun isis andand howhow toto controlcontrol itsits lightlight oror positionposition lightslights atat differentdifferent timestimes ofof day,day, andand supersuper--fast.fast. HisHis demeanordemeanor onon sesett –– thethe wonderfulwonderful tonetone hehe setssets andand runningrunning hishis crewcrew brilliantlybrilliantly –– addsadds toto hishis skills."skills."
Tom Stern was up for the adventure of making a movie with Hensleigh: "Jonathan and I spoke initially, and he explained that the idea for the film kind of evolved from The Wages of Fear. It's kind of existential and kind of gritty, and it's also very kind of naturalistic, so the idea was to be naturalistic but to also do something that would hopefully have a huge scope because it's intrinsically what you get visually when you start thinking about three big tractor trailers on ice roads. It's like endless horizons, so I jokingly told him, 'Well maybe we could make Lawrence of Arabia with ice and snow,' and he had a good laugh."
"I think we set out to make a film with that kind of scale but still really character driven. Characters are very important to Jonathan and so we honored that from the get-go. It was important to make a film that had huge scope and really immersive compelling characters."
"He's almost, in the French sense, an auteur in that he wrote the film and now he's directing it.
That's great, because I envision my job in general to help the director tell his story and the tools I have are lighting and image, and kinetics, moving around and stuff like that."
"I was quite taken with the way that Jonathan articulated his vision and I thought that I could really contribute something and that would be a pretty gratifying collaboration. This is probably the most arduous film that's going to get made in 2020 because we're minus 40 and the snow. It's a way of saying, you know, bring it on," says Stern.
"We basically shot everything in a naturalistic kind of way but we're using incredibly good cameras and anamorphic lenses. Ideally when it's done it will really have a lot of scope, so it's been constantly every day pulling tricks out of the bag to make it work. For example, with these trucks, the doors will fly open and down below you will see the real ice. So, it's the real deal. There's no place to hide. We just had to embrace the flat horizons."
Bart Rosenblatt: "The most memorable scene for me in the movie is when the character Gurty, played by Marcus Thomas, falls through the ice and Mike, played by Liam Neeson, has to save him. Gurty is a special needs character and he only wants to help and through circumstances which he doesn't have any control over, he ends up in the water."
Al Corley: "The scenes I like are more character-driven, and there are several. Like when Liam's character looks for a job, and he lands in Laurence's office. Fishburne says, 'Why have you had 8 jobs such a short time? What's going on?' And Liam says, 'My brother has aphasia.' And Fishburne says, 'I know what that is, and hires him right then. Giving him a shot is a very moving scene. It's also cool to see a crane drop a truck through the ice, too, though."
Tom Stern: "There's a melancholy scene at the end when Liam's character Mike shows up to meet Amber's character. It's weird because, to me, Mike is kind of like a noble ethical lost person, and even after all this is happening, he's still lost. That's one thing I like about what Jonathan has written, that Mike doesn't find happiness necessarily. It's like it's just not in his cards, and you see that when the two characters meet up after all this. I thought that was incredibly well done on both their parts."
Arv Greywal: "It's essentially a scene where our miners are hurt, and the main characters are going through who's going to live and who's going to die. There's a fear that the methane is built up so much that they're going to die from it anyways. There's also a fear that a spark could explode it. There are fears that the mine that's already had a collapse might collapse in more, so there's tension in the scene."
Matt McCoy: "A scene that stands out for me, without giving too much away, is when George Sickle is revealed as to who he is, what his agenda was, and what he is to his core. And it's a wonderful scene. I hope it plays as wonderful as I felt it when I did it on the day but anytime somebody is not what they think they are and then they reveal themselves to be somebody that you had no idea they were going down that road. It's great fun."
Marcus Thomas: "The one that makes me tear up is where Liam and I sit in the car and Liam decides to drop his brother off at the Veterans' office and might leave him there. That was a very sad, powerful scene, because the struggle was very clear that Liam couldn't carry that burden."
Liam Neeson: "Everyday there was something new, something unique that happened. Jonathan would describe the scene that he wants, the camera angles, roughly what it was going to be, but there was always a little element of freedom where you could improvise something or do something. I find myself doing that sometimes, especially the scenes with Marcus who played Gurty. I find myself getting quite emotional in some of the scenes with him and the things that happen to him, and my responses kind of took me by surprise. Jonathan was great, he just went with it. He was like, 'Do that. Keep that in.' Whatever it was."