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Sundance 2011 Film Review: On the Ice

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As a famous theme song once said, “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.” This very much holds true when it comes to the annual Sundance Film Festival as it does with everything else. While the last four films I’ve reviewed (Like Crazy, My Idiot Brother, The Music Never Stopped and Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel) were all pretty topnotch, sadly, it isn’t always so.

 

 

Case in point: the Alaskan Iñupiaq thriller, On the Ice. On the surface it sounds like a great crime study with a new outlook on the genre by showing how things work in that world. However, sometimes authenticity of one aspect of a film can get in the way of another. This time it happens to be the acting that gets in the way. While using English and native languages throughout the story, I have a feeling that some of the actors could have boosted from getting to use more of their native tongue. Let alone the fact that everyone seems to be first time actors doesn’t help and should have given some leeway. But that could only have been afforded given that the characters were sympathetic to begin with.

Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) and Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan) are obviously close friends. They rap together, party together, go hunting together and eventually murder together. During a hunting trip gone awry between Aivaaq and another friend, James (John Miller), Qalli comes across the two squabbling and he rushed to Aivaaq’s aid tackling James and accidentally spearing him in the neck with Aivaaq’s knife. The two decide to dump the body into a crack in the ice but its Qalli who winds up being the bad guy here as he lets Aivaaq believe it was him who killed James and then Qalli also goes after his long-time unrequited love interest Michelle (Adamina Kerr) who just happens to be James’ now ex-girlfriend. With Qalli’s suspicious father, Egasak (Teddy Kyle Smith), snooping around town and at home, it’s only a matter of time before the unsurprising dénouement comes rearing its head.

There’s nothing directly wrong with the technical aspects of On the Ice so much as with the performances. Even the pacing is kept methodical and there are some surprisingly clever plot points but at any given moment all scenes with potential tension are killed quicker than an injured nayiq by his inept cast. Director/screenwriter Andrew Okpeaha Maclean has some great writing/directing chops when all is said and done, especially for managing to flesh out his original short film (Sikumi) and the cinematography by Lol Crawley is beautifully impressive, but hopefully next time Maclean can find a better group of actors more capable of delivering the goods in front of the camera to better match the quality he’s shown behind the camera.

One more screening for On the Ice will be held Saturday at noon at the Yarrow Hotel Theater in Park City.

On a final note, the film has gotten this song stuck in my head ever since the screening…

 

Photo courtesy On the Ice Productions

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.