The Ice Harvest (2005)

DVD Cover (Focus Features Reissue)
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> Holiday: Christmas
Overall Rating 62%
Overall Rating
Ranked #2,474
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John Cusack
John Cusack
Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton
Lara Phillips
Lara Phillips
Bill Noble
Bill Noble
Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 11, 2005
This is an anti-Christmas film in the same way that "Bad Santa" was somewhat of an anti-Christmas film. Both films star Billy Bob Thornton, and both have him playing a lowlife, but these are two different Billy Bob Thornton's altogether. In "Bad Santa", he was a guy who was continually down on his luck, who sucked at life, for life had sucked him dry. In "The Ice Harvest", he plays a successful guy who wants to be more successful, so he resorts to crime to help him achieve this goal. In a very bizarre way, Thornton was more underhanded in this film than in "Bad Santa", and his performance is amazing in how he exudes this evil calm that follows Cusack throughout the film. "The Ice Harvest" is one of the most engaging films of the year, an expertly written and directed black comedy, and the best Harold Ramis film since the underrated "Groundhog Day". It deserves your eight bucks a hell of a lot more than Usher or Ryan Reynolds. The good films always get the shaft.

John Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a lawyer who makes his living working for the crime-boss in Wichita, Kansas, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). The films opens with he and his cohort Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) leaving the bank, where they have just stolen over two million dollars of Bill Guerrard's money. They think they have it worked out where no one will notice until they are long gone. Alas, an ice storm hits that delays their much needed departure. Charlie begins getting nervous when he sees Bill Guerrard's thug Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) snooping around for them, and he shares his suspicions with Vic, who immediately shoots them down. We then segue into a relationship between Charlie and Renata (Connie Nielsen), who manages one of Bill Guerrard's strip clubs and is looking for leverage on a city councilman. We also bare witness to the relationship between Charlie and Pete (Oliver Platt), who is now married to Charlie's ex-wife. Charlie and Pete share some of the best scenes and moments of the film, especially when they discuss their romances. Randy Quaid pops up at the end of the film as Bill Guerrard, the crime-boss and kingpin.

This is a dark comedy...probably one of the darkest comedies I have seen in a long while. This is by no means your typical Harold Ramis film. Cusack and Thornton are not nice people, and neither are the people they do business with. Platt's drunken buffoon is probably the most virtuous person in the film and all he wants is to get out of his marriage and situation as soon as possible. It was interesting to watch Thornton, especially, as he went from this quirky sidekick to this evil and sadistic torturer who would have likely killed everyone it took to take the money and run. One of the best scenes in the film comes when Cusack and Thornton are having this bizarre discussion with a guy in a trunk, breaking into this debate as to whether or not the backseat of a Mercedes is more spacious than the backseat of a Lincoln. And there is another great scene when Cusack accompanies Platt home, only to have their unannounced visit blow up in their faces when Cusack's kids go off on him. Later, he buys them some cheap gas station toys to make up for it.

As with most dark comedies, the end result relies heavily on the performances. John Cusack is understated and intriguing as always, virtually playing the same character he always plays, this one very similar to his role in "Grosse Point Blank". Billy Bob Thornton brings a weird pathos to his role and delivers one of the most finely tuned comic performances of his career, very similar to his role in "Bandits". The highlight of the film for me was the under-appreciated Oliver Platt in a role that could have easily been mishandled by a lesser actor; here, Platt makes Pete someone we come to love rather than someone who just pops up. Kudos to Randy Quaid also for turning five minutes of screen time into something truly special...very akin to the brief appearance from William Hurt in "A History of Violence". If they had an award for Best Cameo, both Quaid and Hurt would deserve a nomination. Plus, let me mention the great Mike Starr as Roy Gelles, the guy in the trunk. This guy is one of the best character actors around and he gets to go wild here. Hilarious.

"The Ice Harvest" made very little money this weekend and will likely head off to DVD sometime soon. This is sad, because this film was brilliantly written by the great Robert Benton and brilliantly directed by the always enjoyable Harold Ramis. Ramis is always able to blend strict humor with some depth and some emotion, and he does that here, though he also throws in some darker elements. This was a very nice anti-Christmas film and it entertained the hell out of me. I don't see why you won't enjoy it either. "The Ice Harvest" gives crime capers a good name, and at the very least gives you five expert performances from five expert performers.

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