When lawyer Charlie (Cusack) and his partner Vic (Thornton) steal from a mob boss, they think they’ve pulled off the perfect crime. But when they race through a night filled with mayhem, lust and lethal surprises, they realize that the biggest risk they’ll take will be trusting each other.
From the director of Analyze This and Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest cracks with outrageous laughs and slippery twists that will keep you guessing until the very end!
The Ice Harvest 7.0
eyelights: Oliver Platt. Ned Bellamy.
eyesores: Connie Nielsen. the minimal amount of humour.
‘The Ice Harvest’ is based on a novel by Scott Philips. It’s a simple film with modern noir vibe that recalls the Coen brothers’ ‘Blood Simple‘. Except that it wasn’t made by the Coens. It was made by Harold Ramis.
Harold Ramis is primarily a comedy director. He has helmed some of the ’90s most popular comedies, such as ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Multiplicity’, and ‘Analyze This’. As a writer, he is also to blame for such classics as ‘Animal House‘ ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Ghostbusters‘.
But, as with Frank Oz, time has not been kind to the comedy connoisseur: his films have progressively made less and less money and he has fallen into general disregard by the masses, despite some critical acclaim.
Perhaps this is why he decided to try his hand at something slightly different, something not nearly as broad.
But the end result of this experiment is that ‘The Ice Harvest’ isn’t quite funny enough to be a dark comedy, but not serious enough to be a film noir. For reasons that escape me, it lacks the morbid wit that is inherent to the best in the genre.
The story itself is totally fine, if nothing especially complex (I am referring to the film, not the novel – I have no idea if anything’s been changed in the adaptation): it’s about two men who have decided to steal over two million dollars from a local mob boss they work for.
Of course, this being Christmas eve, and in light of the moral flexibility of criminals, not everything goes as planned: what seems like an easy enough scheme eventually spirals out of control due to paranoia, distrust, double-crosses and a variety of human neuroses.
You’d think that Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack would be the perfect candidates for such a piece: Thornton had been the centre of a hilariously dark Christmas film before and Cusack did the same as a cold-hearted hitman who longs to go home again. Bizarrely, neither felt quite in their element.
Thornton, for his part, lacked the fire that usually propels him in his most acclaimed performances; he felt as false as his sad-looking toupee. Cusack, meanwhile, was as lethargic as he was jowly – all youthful vigour that once made him irresistibly quirky was replaced here by a waxy, bored -and boring- middle-aged man.
The chemistry that they shared in the unconscionably lacklustre ‘Pushing Tin’ was not in evidence in ‘The Ice Harvest’, and this was not helped by the unconvincing femme fatale that Connie Nielsen tried to incarnate. The whole time I could only think that, at the same age, Kathleen Turner would have knocked it out of the park. Nielsen speaks the part but doesn’t breathe it.
Thankfully, they are given a delightful boost by Oliver Platt’s exuberant performance. Although he is too dialled-up to be real, he brings a much-needed comic relief to the film as Cusack’s despairing buddy: a man who stole Cusack’s life, is now married to his ex, living in his old house and raising his children. He is miserable, incredibly drunk, and a complete burden.
But he’s also very funny.
Another interesting character is Ned Bellamy who plays the bartender at Sweet cage, a mob-run strip club that Cusack visits regularly. This intimidating guy seems to mean well but is extremely volatile, going so far as to cursing his own mother in the most vile ways on the night before Christmas. He’s a ruffian, and his outburst are sometimes so ridiculous that they elicit chuckles.
Ultimately, though, these two are not enough spark to light a fire in ‘The Ice Harvest’; it’s a movie that has all the makings of a cult favourite (with fans of black comedies and/or counter-Christmas programming), but somehow remains too detached and lifeless to spread much cheer in its target audience. If anything, it feels like warmed-up holiday leftovers – it’s not all bad, but one has had fresher.
Date of viewing: December 12, 2012