Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Ice Harvest" (2005)

The Short Version? Dirty Deeds at Xmas time.
What Is It? Noir Comedy.
Who's In It? John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton
Should I See It? Yes.

A lot of hate has been directed at this supposed misfire, which is about par for a black comedy. It's a tricky genre, built specifically to alienate segments of its audience in search of misanthropic humor. In this case, the vehicle is film noir, the morally ambiguous crime picture that has also been known to turn back the more upright citizen. Between the two, you're bound to piss people off, as fans of one won't necessarily find the other palatable. Sure, the best noir points out the folly of life, but to be both arch and broad must seem an unforgivable sin to a purist. Meanwhile, it's also a Harold Ramis picture, so fans of Meatballs and Caddyshack aren't any more likely to appreciate the intentionally unlikable characters, nihilism, and detours into drama. For me, with exceptions, its a gas-- a swell anti-holiday romp.

This is to my mind easily John Cusack's best role since High Fidelity, playing a mob lawyer who, outside self-preservation and an object of lust, has very little interest in his life. I enjoyed watching Cusack wading deeper and deeper into a cesspool of his own making, as he's traded his boyish looks for a more defeated middle-aged slack, in the manner of fatherly Fred MacMurray's nastier turns. He's been numbed to his own existence, until being prodded to embezzle a small fortune from a gangster by Billy Bob Thornton, in one of those increasingly rare instances where he plays a son-of-a-bitch you want to see on screen. Things don't go quite as planned, and before you know it, a body count builds. The mad turns in a flick like this are what make it, so I'll spoil no further. Let me just say Cusack's character has a fair share of bitter pills to swallow, and the more enjoyment you can find in his resigned discomfort, the better off you'll be upon viewing.

Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, and Randy Quaid serve their parts well, while if Ramis is somewhat atonal in his presentation, c'est la vie. The director's one great misstep is in the awful, tacked-on theatrical ending, much improved on DVD by the option of an alternate. This one is recommended to only the most unrepentant Grinch.


  • Alternate Endings Essential to your walking away from this movie satisfied. The actual ending is d. u. m. b. Choose only the second though, as both include the entire last chapter from the film, and the first is a brief variation on the second.
  • Outtake with Billy Bob Thornton Channeling Carl from Swingblade.
  • Cracking the Story A solid seventeen minute talk with the author of the novel and the screenwriters about the production.
  • Beneath the Harvest A dull collection of interviews and on-the-set footage running thirteen minutes. Do they still run stuff like this as bumper material between pay-cable movies?
  • Ice Cracking: Analysis of a SceneHow the scene on the doc was shot.
  • Audio Commentary with Director Harold Ramis Typical stuff.

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