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THE ICE HARVEST

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thorton, Connie Nielsen, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt, Mike Starr
Director: Harold Ramis
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Focus Features
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: February 28, 2006

“Vic, whose thumb is this?”

“Oh, good news Roy. Charlie brought your thumb.”

Film ***1/2

Not since Fargo has dark comedy been demonstrated more perfectly. The Ice Harvest is a dead on balance of comedy and thriller elements, not to mention the most anti-holiday movie you will ever come across. Yes, Bad Santa has officially had its title taken away.

I was surprised to see that the director is none other than Harold Ramis, who in the past has specialized in wacky lighter fare such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Multiplicity. He even helmed the edgy comedy Analyze This, but The Ice Harvest is much edgier by comparison. Ramis has made a dark comedy noir at the level you might normally expect from the Coen Brothers.

The setting is Christmas Eve in ice ridden Wichita, Kansas. In the opening scene, we learn that a crime is being committed by a lawyer and his sleazy friend. The lawyer is Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), who is known for representing reputed mob associates. He and his cohort, strip club owner Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thorton), have managed to steal 2.2 million dollars in cash from one of Charlie’s clients, Kansas mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid).

It’s quite a ballsy move, and that notion doesn’t hit Charlie until after he’s stolen the money. Vic instructs him to simply lay low for a few hours, then meet up to split the money and disappear separately into the sunset. Sounds simple, but as we’ve seen before, everything that could possibly go wrong does, but not in the ways you’d expect.

First off, there’s strip club manager Renata (Connie Nieslen), who Charlie seems to have a thing for. She comes onto him by asking him for a favor involving the theft of a certain photograph. Before long, Charlie may give into to cutting her in for some of the money.

But that problem’s a walk in the park compared to an encounter with his drunken best friend, Pete (Oliver Platt). As if preventing Pete from public embarrassment wasn’t enough, Charlie has to endure a horrific Christmas dinner with Pete’s wife, who just so happens to be his ex. It results in one of the funniest family Christmas dinner scenes you’ll ever see. Platt’s performance is one of the highlights of the film in terms of laugh out loud moments.

And to cap it all off, Charlie soon finds out that a hit man is looking for both him and Vic, making it clear that the ripped off boss is none too happy. When he finally meets up with Vic, and a couple of dead bodies are produced, Charlie begins to wonder if he will make it through the night. One of the supposed dead bodies is locked in a trunk and awakens with threats to both of them, causing Vic to lose it and strike the trunk repeatedly with a golf club.

It’s certainly great to see Cusack and Thorton reunited seven years after the much underrated comedy Pushing Tin. You’ll be hard pressed to find two other actors who work off each other in the way that these two do. Their scenes together are priceless. Despite the fact that nearly all the characters are low lives and aren’t too nice, Cusack’s character does strike up a high likeable factor, as always. And though Thorton has lesser screen time, he delivers many of the movie’s memorable one liners, which I’m not able to use in this review.

The Ice Harvest is as sick and hilarious as a good dark comedy can be. It succeeds by all of its perfect ingredients, and is a must see for those appreciative of this genre.

Video ***1/2

This Focus release gets quite a terrific anamorphic treatment. Since the film takes place during the course of an evening, the shots are mostly indoor and darkly lit. Given that, the presentation does get the job done. A couple of opening shots displayed a hint of grain, but nothing close to distracting. For the most part, a very strong performance.

Audio ***1/2

This film is pretty much a dialogue driven piece, but when the dark elements come into play, the 5.1 mix really soars. Dialogue is delivered wonderfully and ultimately clear, and the several instances of violence produce some nice jolts in the performance. Christmas tunes occupy the film’s soundtrack, and they are very well delivered as well.

Features ***

Amongst the extras is a commentary track with Harold Ramis, a very funny outtake featuring Billy Bob Thorton in Sling Blade mode, two alternate endings, and three well done featurettes; “Cracking the Story”, “Beneath the Harvest” and “Ice Cracking: Analysis of a Scene”.

Summary:

If you want a lot of dark with your comedy, look no further than The Ice Harvest to deliver the goods. A tremendous cast, along with comedy directing vet Ramis, strike gold with this unapologetically nasty anti-holiday farce. May not be for all tastes, but if you’re like me, a real treat awaits.

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