On The Ice

On The Ice

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2008, a short film by a little-known director made a big impression at the Sundance and Tribeca festivals. Sikumi told the story of a hunter who happened upon a fight by two men, out on the ice, and reluctantly agreed to cover up the resulting murder. Now Andrew Okpeaha MacLean has extended this taught moral drama to ask more complex questions about what might happen in the aftermath of such an event.

This time around, the details are not quite the same. The men involved are younger - just teenagers - still developing their moral values in the context of a changing culture and an unforgiving landscape. They are Inupiaq people living in the high Arctic, riding motor-sleds and hunting for seals, with an all-American education and grandparents who still speak the mother tongue. The fight is complicated; just how guilt should be apportioned is not clear. And there's a further twist, because one of those involved is the son of the local search and rescue officer, a man with old-school tracking skills. How far will the father go to pursue justice if he might put his own boy at risk by doing so?

It's difficult to sustain the same level of tension over 96 minutes as over 15 and On The Ice doesn't really manage to pull it off. The central performances are not as strong as they need to be and added subplots serve to dilute rather than concentrate the atmosphere. It's a shame because there is some interesting work here and the cinematogaphy is first class. The remoteness of the vast snowy landscapes presents an effective contrast with stifling, claustrophobic character of a small town where everybody knows everybody else. We lurch between environments where there is no freedom at all and where one might get away with anything, and the effect is morally dizzying.

The impressive visuals and imaginative scope of the film will still make this film interesting to many viewers, yet one can't help but think that MacLean might have handled it better if he'd got a couple of other features under his belt first. It's hugely ambitious for a first piece of work on this scale so no-one should really be surprised if it falls short. On the strength of it, MacLean is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2012
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After a fight in which their friend is killed, two Alaskan teenagers try to cover up what happened and keep their mutual secret.
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Director: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Writer: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Starring: Josiah Patkotak, Frank Qutuq Irelan, Teddy Kyle Smith, Adamina Kerr, Sierra Jade Sampson

Year: 2011

Country: US


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