The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest

The Ice Harvest

directed by Harold Ramis

starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid and Mike Starr

Focus Features

Sleepy Wichita, Kansas is suddenly jolted into action on Christmas Eve when two mob cohorts, lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his sleazy partner in crime Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) rip off a powerful Kansas City mobster of over $2 million during the worst winter storm in years. Things between Vic and Charlie are smooth at the beginning but become icier as the film progresses. Charlie is neurotic, paranoid and scared of being discovered. Vic is calm, cool, collected and careful. The tension between the two builds as the movie progresses, leading to a twisting and turning night of murder, mayhem, backstabbing, sex and greed.

But the money and escape is not enough for Charlie who realizes that after having a failed marriage and troubled relationships with his kids needs something more. He hopes of apparent salvation lay in scurrying out of town with a shady strip club owner named Renata (Connie Nielsen). Charlie has a big time thing for Renata and agrees to her acquisition of a picture that implicates a local councilman

As Charlie’s white Christmas unfolds, things only get worse and worse. His best friend Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt) is not only married to his ex-wife, but also is really drunk. Pete’s ill-timed drunken debauchery puts another kink in Charlie’s plan of a quick getaway while testing his inner convictions and loyalty to his best friend.

As if this were not enough, Mob muscleman Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) blows in from the cold looking for Vic and Charlie. Despite reassurances from Vic, a paranoid Charlie remains overly cautious, throwing caution to the wind when he confronts the sneaky Vic in the icy Wichita cold.

Charlie’s not so silent night gets even uglier near the end when mob Boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) shows up reclaim his loot. Guerrard’s ‘visit’ sets the film’s climax into motion by starting a chain of events that will change Charlie’s Christmas Eve plans in startling ways.

Despite the convoluted plot and Elmore Leonard style the film works because of its ensemble cast. Both Thornton and Cusack are witty, sly and smug on camera, taking on their respective roles with an intense passion. The chemistry between Thornton and Cusack is perfect. Cusack plays his usual glib and downtrodden self, while Thornton chews up the screen with his off-color comments and conniving skullduggery. Director Harold Ramis then steps in and pounces on their abilities, making their performances gel perfectly with his noirish style. A smoldering performance by Connie Nielsen steams up the screen, driving the plot’s sexual tension. Randy Quaid brings just enough edge and malice to his performance to make you forget he was ever a Griswold. But it is the physical, oafish comedy of Oliver Platt that steals the film.

Harold Ramis has transformed Scott Phillips’ hardboiled novel into a typical Hollywood heist film by taking the mob attitude of Prizzi’s Honor and filtering it with the black comedy of Bad Santa, with romantic smidges of Gross Pointe Blank for good measure. What he ends up with is movie that is largely a deceptively bloody, chilly and thrilly escapade in noir that is fun to watch.

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