January 24, 2011

Mixed reviews for On the Ice

On the Ice

By Justin ChangA drama that should feel as elemental as its setting comes across as stilted and unconvincing in "On the Ice." Even d.p. Lol Crawley's starkly beautiful lensing of the arctic tundra can't prop up this poorly motivated saga of two teenage boys who find themselves with a dead body on their hands. A rare film set among the Inupiaq people of northern Alaska, writer-director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's debut feature is already the beneficiary of high-profile Sundance and Berlin berths and will likely enjoy additional fest-circuit exposure as an ethnographic slot-filler. Commercial prospects look otherwise frigid.

Developed through the Sundance Institute's Native filmmakers program, pic is billed in the production notes as "a story that can happen anywhere," which is part of the problem. While "On the Ice" offers a unique immersion in the language and customs of the Inupiaq culture in MacLean's hometown of Barrow, Alaska, the harrowing moral journey it serves up--part "A Simple Plan," part Cain and Abel--feels artificially applied to these rural environs, rather than emerging organically from regional specifics.
Sundance Review:  On the Ice

By John DeForeIts sense of place is transporting. But many of the film's performances are as chilly as the Arctic Circle wind, and its deliberately laid-out suspense beats fail to catch fire. Arthouse appeal is modest, but many fest auds will embrace the view it offers of a people who have not abandoned old traditions even as mainstream American culture leaves its mark.

The Bottom Line: Alaska-set drama about a momentous secret holds cultural interest but can't sustain much tension.
Sundance Review:  On the Ice Tails Off

A decent premise, but not enough solid acting.

By Aaron Peck
On the Ice touches on an emotional level during its first half up until the murder happens. After that it turns into a pseudo-murder mystery, which has Qallie's dad trying to figure out what really happened. There are times where we wonder, "How did he really know to do that or look there?" I imagine it all boils down to fatherly wisdom, or perhaps the story just needs to move forward. Sadly, the story becomes extremely predictable, and the young actors here just can't pull off the dramatic material. It's a shame, because On the Ice had a lot of promise.

Grade: C
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Sundance Incubates Native Film and Preview of On the Ice.

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