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I had heard this movie described as a black comedy by some. And when
one thinks of Harold Ramis, they think of his ingenious work as a
director of comedies. But this is a different Harold Ramis. What he has
fashioned is "film noir" all the way.
John Cusack works perfectly with the material, not so much in a Humphrey Bogart kind of way as in a Fred MacMurray sort of way. He's the average guy protagonist. He just happens to be a Witchita attorney for a Kansas City political boss.
The film begins when Charlie Arglist (Cusack), with over two million in stolen cash, jumps into the car with partner-in-crime Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton). Throughout the evening Charlie encounters strip club owner Renata (Connie Nielsen) and drunken colleague Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt, his fist scene-stealer in a number of years).
The character of Pete offers some great comic relief to the story. He's Charlie's best friend, drunk on Christmas Eve. He's also married to Charlie's ex-wife, and hating it. This leads to an awkward encounter with Charlie's kids and former in-laws.
Thornton is still finding new ways of being corrupt and amoral. Connie Nielsen is a classic femme fatal in the 1940s style. Mike Starr is good as usual, playing a menacing mob enforcer. Randy Quaid does his usual best as Kansas City mobster Bill Guerarrd. And bit player Ned Bellamy, cast as a strip club bouncer with Mom issues adds some fine scenes.
This is about the most straight-forward "noir" I've seen since Lawrence Kasdan's "Body Heat," but as directed by Ramis, it feels slightly like a Coen brothers movie, with the occasional comic twists to the genre, and the casting choices of Thornton ("The Man Who Wasn't There") and Starr ("Miller's Crossing").
It's not the best movie of the year. But it's good for people who aren't so anxious for a "white" Christmas.
Take the sardonic wit of "Prizzi's Honor" or "Body Heat." Combine with
not-too- bright characters working a shady deal for quick riches in a
caper that could have been written by Elmore Leonard. That's what you
have in "The Ice Harvest," a highly entertaining dark comedy.
It's Christmas Eve during a terrible ice storm in Kansas City. Charlie (John Cusack) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have stolen a bundle from the mob. This could create an awkward situation for Charlie if they don't get out of town fast. He's the lawyer for the local mob boss, Bill (Randy Quaid), who has a terrible temper.
So as not to arouse suspicion, Vic and Charlie go their separate ways early in the evening. Both have family duties and Charlie has other things to take care of. There's the beautiful Renata (Connie Nielson), for one. And Pete (Oliver Platt), who shares part of Charlie's past. Life becomes more complicated as the night goes on and Charlie meets up again with Vic. More twists and surprises follow.
I almost didn't go to this movie, because the teaser for the Austin Film Festival made it look like a Cusack-Thornton buddy movie, and I'm tired of the character Thornton keeps playing. Happily Thornton is not on screen much. This is John Cusack's movie and he has created an interesting, unhappy man looking for a way out. Oliver Platt, who steals every scene he's in, provides comic relief and story exposition.
Director Harold Ramis introduced the film and did a Q&A afterwards. He talked about how the snowstorm in the book became an ice storm because that's the weather they had to work with. He talked about the many ideas Cusack and Platt brought to their characters. New to me was Connie Nielson, originally from Denmark. Ramis said she told him she was channeling Jessica Rabbit in the part of the femme fatale. I think she succeeded. Kudos also to Pulitzer-prize winning author Richard Russo and Robert Benton for a snappy script.
I also saw this film at the Virginia Film Festival, but I must disagree with the other fellow who wrote it up. I loved it. I'm not a huge Cusack fan, but I have to say he does a great job carrying this small, gritty, character-driven film. And I thought Oliver Platt was great throughout. It's a terrific script, too, co-written by none other than Robert Benton. Kudos to Harold Ramis for having the guts to make this indie film! Is it commercial? Is it going to make a lot at the B.O.? No, it's not. It's another WONDER BOYS. It's another BIG LEBOWSKI. It's another CUTTER'S WAY. It's another NOBODY'S FOOL. Won't make money, but who cares... It was a delight to watch and I'm sure I'll see it again on a big screen and own it on DVD.
THE ICE HARVEST (TIH), another quirky triumph from Focus Features, should really be sold as a thriller with darkly comedic undertones a la FARGO rather than a comedy with thriller elements a la GROSSE POINTE BLANK (even though John Cusack looks remarkably like he did in GPB here). It's a subtle but crucial difference, and a successful change in tone for director Harold Ramis. The suspenseful yet surreally funny Kansas-set story of nervous Mob lawyer John Cusack teaming up with laid-back yet ruthless Billy Bob Thornton to steal over $2 million from Cusack's boss Randy Quaid, only to find themselves stuck in Wichita by an ice storm and all manner of goof-ups and goofballs, with a hit man on their tail to-boot, TIH tells its twisted tale as if my fave thriller author Jim Thompson (THE GRIFTERS, THE GETAWAY, POP. 1280, among others) wrote it in a jovial mood -- though I suspect that in a jovial mood, Thompson would have been more likely to smirk than belly-laugh. Set on Christmas Eve, TIH starts with the best unexpected holiday-themed credits since 1947's LADY IN THE LAKE and only gets more gleefully malevolent from there. You know our antiheroes are literally in for a blue Christmas, thanks to Alar Kivilo's sleek azure-tinged photography. Cusack and Thornton make such a good team that I'm now eager to rent their previous collaboration, PUSHING TIN, even though I've heard mixed reviews of that, too. Oliver Platt has been touted as TIH's scene-stealer in the role of Cusack's friend who stole his wife and, having lived to regret it, spends the whole film getting drunk and hilariously obnoxious. Platt's a hoot, all right, but Thornton has the slyest lines; his explanation of how his wife ends up killed by the hit man is evilly funny, all the more so for Thornton's matter-of-fact delivery. Connie Nielsen also deserves kudos for stealing her own scenes more subtly and sensuously as the sexy owner of The Sweet Cage, one of many strip joints in town that Cusack frequents (I came away from the movie thinking strip joints must be a cottage industry in Wichita). Nielsen looks like a Petty Girl or Varga Girl come to life, fresh from the pages of a vintage Esquire issue. If you want a wicked little tongue-in-cheek noir as an antidote to the season's holiday cheer, TIH may well be your cup of hemlock. (When TIH comes out on DVD, rent it along with BAD SANTA, FARGO, and/or GROSSE POINTE BLANK and have yourself a merry little day of eccentric movie mayhem!)
There's something about a dark, violent and offensive Christmas movie
that sends me through the roof. I loved 'Bad Santa' and 'Die Hard' is
my second favorite Christmas film (if you can call it that, I can) of
all time. 'The Ice Harvest' looked very entertaining from it's previews
and starred a talented group of actors including John Cusack (Grosse
Point Blank), Billy Bob Thorton (Bad Santa), Connie Nielsen
(Gladiator), the hilarious Randy Quaid (National Lampoon's Christmas
Vacation) and the even more hilarious Oliver Platt (Showtime's 'Huff').
'The Ice Harvest' was even directed by the great Harold Ramis
(Caddyshack, Groundhog's Day). Yes, 'The Ice Harvest' had all
ingredients to be a very decent black Christmas movie. In the first
fifteen minutes of 'The Ice Harvest' I was sorely disappointed in it's
quality, but by twenty-five minutes in, I enjoyed every dark minute. It
is by far the most twisted Holiday movie I've seen (dark sh*t, real
dark sh*t), but I was enthralled through the lot of it.
'The Ice Harvest' is based on the not-so-well-known novel. It follows big-time dead-beat dad mob lawyer, Charlie Aglist (John Cusack). Charlie decides he wants to make it big so with the help of a local Witchita goon, Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thorton) he rips off his violent mob boss client, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). This all happens on Christmas Eve day, and he and Vic leave Witicha that night. All they have to do is act normal for 24 hours -- that turns to DISASTER! The two somehow get pursued by the mob, deal with a perky but wise bad-ass business lady Renita (Connie Nielsen), get the cops involved and somehow manage to get Charlie's ex-wife's new drunken dipsh*t husband, Pete (Oliver Platt) involved. It's going to be one hell of a night!
Like I said before, 'The Ice Harvest' is very slow during the start but really speeds up twenty - thirty minutes into it. The writing is solid for the most part (some of it is unbelievable), but the reason I liked it so much was because it was unpredictable. In the theater, I honestly had no clue what was going to happen next, and that is damn hard to find in a film now days. Harold Ramis does another great job directing this, and the cast is fabulous. Cusack and Thorton shine in their roles, Quaid is surprisingly perfect as a cutthroat mobster, Connie Nielsen handles her role okay for the most part, but the real stand-out is Oliver Platt. Platt is absolutely hysterical every second he is on the screen including a hilarious scene with him showing up drunk at his uptight parents-in-law's house for Christmas Eve dinner. 'The Ice Harvest' is enjoyable but it is nothing brilliant. It has it's flaws and displays them, but 'The Ice Harvest' wasn't meant to be groundbreaking, just entertaining (which it wildly succeeds in).
I was surprised to hear this was doing terrible in the box office. I think a lot of people would get a kick out of it, at least those who had the stomach for it. 'The Ice Harvest' is very violent, dark and sick and some of the more conservative and weak-hearted movie goers will find it's material offensive and pure rubbish. I personally loved it because it was sick and unpredictable. It was no Oscar contender, but it kept me on the edge of my seat. I haven't been on the edge of my seat in a movie theater in a long time. Thank you for another fun and quirky black comedy, Harold Ramis. Grade: B (screened at AMC Deer Valley 30, Phoenix, Arizona, 12/02/05)
John Cusack stars, and his performance is pretty much what you expect from him: quick-witted and cynical. But, as far as I'm concerned, as long as that's what the role calls for, he's always good. He plays a mob lawyer who has just stolen over $2 million from his boss (Randy Quaid) with the help of a strip club owner (Billy Bob Thornton). For a good ways into the picture, I thought I was seeing one of the best films of last year. It does start to stumble after about the halfway point, but it still finishes pretty strong. All the actors are strong, but I have to give special kudos to Oliver Platt, who is always a delight. He plays a drunk friend of Cusack's who is now miserably married to Cusack's ex-wife. I don't normally praise drunk acts, but Platt is particularly believable and hilarious. This movie is a lot of fun and well worth seeing.
When the name Harold Ramis is mentioned, a lot of people will probably
say "Harold who?". When explained to those people that he directed the
wonderful romantic comedy GROUNDHOG DAY and wrote the screenplays for
GHOSTBUSTERS I & II, they'll probably say "Oooh, that Harold!". After
the redundant De Niro-wrecks ANALYZE THIS & THAT it got a little quiet
around Ramis. Now he's back with THE ICE HARVEST, a movie that somewhat
differs from his other work. It's been a while since I've seen such a
successful mixture of black comedy and film-noir/thriller.
Charlie (John Cusack), a Kansas attorney on the verge of a burn-out, and his associate Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have just stolen 2 million $ from their boss on Christmas Eve. They're planning on leaving that same night to enjoy their money elsewhere. Charlie also is in love with the beautiful stripclub-owner Renata and hopes that his newly earned dollars will make a fine argument to persuade her to go with him. But an upcoming ice storm makes it very difficult to leave the town immediately. On top of that, a mysterious figure has arrived in Wichita informing all over the place about Charlie. It will turn out to be a night full of surprises where everyone seems to be playing dark and deceiving games.
This movie relies on the statement "Money is the root of all evil". It's slightly disturbing to see how far one will go when a considerable amount of money is involved. Maybe not all of the twists and turns in the plot are unpredictable, but there are enough of them to keep it interesting, all this at a fairly high pace. They provide enough enjoyable moments, with the trunk-scene as one of the highlights. This particular scene leads to a funny discussion between Charlie and Vic about a Mercedes and a Lincoln. All this in order to say that the script and dialogues are more than decent.
Cusack and Thornton deliver the goods, never over-acting it. Besides them there's also a striking performance by Connie Nielsen as femme-fatale Renata and I never thought that a completely drunk Oliver Platt, as Charlie's drinking buddy, could be so hilarious. And it was nice to see Mike Starr and Randy Quaid in some smaller roles. So the complete cast pulls it off quite good.
Maybe THE ICE HARVEST (with the appropriate tagline "Thick Thieves. Thin Ice.", by the way) isn't a movie for a wide audience, because of the grim & black humor and the occasional pretty violent outbursts. But it sure is a welcome alternative for mainstream movies and highly recommended for film-noir-fans.
The Ice Harvest is attractive to two audiences, those being the film
noir and/or crime fans and the people who think a movie with Cusack and
Thornton directed by ex-Ghostbuster Ramis is going to be a
mishap-riddled caper comedy. Unfortunately, this film's heart lies
outside of the compatibility of either. It's technically not a crime
film, because the story begins immediately as the crime ends, a $2
million embezzlement scheme that is never explained. Also, the film is
certainly not a comedy within the ballpark of any other work by Harold
Ramis. What Ramis has made is a film that is more of a dramatic
exercise in cinematic mood and low-key atmosphere. The good news is
that he pulls it off very well.
The Ice Harvest happens to be one of the movies I watch at Christmastime, because the film is actually so well-directed and so well-shot that it captures that constantly sought-after perfect cozy winter atmosphere on film. The events of the story occur over the course of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all in the small and quiet town of Wichita, KA. No matter how much time it spends during the outlandish drunken bouts of Oliver Platt or the destructive tantrums of Ned Bellamy's overaggressive bartender, The Ice Harvest never breaks its meticulous feeling and image for one moment.
Even though it's not what is expected by the vast majority of those who have seen it or those who mean to, it does have impressionistic characteristics of those expectations that deliver sensationally, such as Thornton's tremendously entertaining time on screen and the thicket of distrust that ushers in over the course of the holidays succeeding his and Cusack's so-called perfect crime. However, these are purely part of the style rather than the substance. The plot is conjecture of film noir rather than the real deal, as most of the twists are nearly meant to be somewhat obvious or expected. Really, the essence of the story lies in Cusack's descent into complete detachment from any virtue in life, feeling as if he's only an observer when encountering darkly humorous yet brooding things over his Christmas.
The Ice Harvest is not really a comedy and not really a film noir. Actually, it bears no genre per se. Simply, it's a wonderful installment in the phantom subgenre of cinematic moodiness.
I just returned from viewing "The Ice Harvest" at a dollar movie theater, and I have to say it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. John Cusak and Billy Bob Thorton are perfect together. The film relies on slapstick comedy to deliver the laughs as opposed to lame quirky one liners which plague so many comedy movies today. Oliver Platt provides most of the comic relief, and it is great to see Randy Quaid in a new movie. The film is a perfect stab at the film noir genre. I recommend this movie to anyone who likes any of the actors, or just want a nice late night movie. More than likely, you will walk away satisfied.
Maybe this really isn't a 9 out of 10, but at the moment I'm just
really enjoying The Ice Harvest. I saw it for a second time, and
enjoyed it more, once I knew what to expect. I can't think of as
inaccurately marketed a movie in recent years. The trailers and posters
made it looked like a caper comedy, and the quotes made it sound like
this year's "Bad Santa." It's neither. As others here have said, it's a
straight noir. Sure, there are some hilarious moments, but the film is
not a comedy. It's dark, slow, and character driven, with John Cusack
exhibiting his very best wry understatement. It's his core of sweetness
-- never overtly revealed, but always present -- set against the
oppressive bleakness of a rainy Christmas eve in and around Wichita
strip clubs and the sordid characters who meander in and out of them,
that keeps the film in balance. Connie Nielsen, Billy Bob Thornton,
Randy Quaid, and Oliver Platt all turn in perfectly tuned performances,
but Cusack, with his low-key, mesmerizing timing, is the center.
Anyway, if you're looking for a fast-moving comedy, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a black, mostly unredeeming movie with great performances and bone-dry wit, The Ice Harvest might be for you.
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