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The Ice Harvest

2006-12-31 11:13

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) is a bit of a sad case. Divorced, alone, and stuck in freezing Wichita, Kansas, Charlie pays his bills by defending the cities biggest crook, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), in court. But this Christmas may just be a merry one for Charlie. He and his unsavoury buddy Vic Cavenaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) have embezzled over 2 million dollars from Mr Guerrard and, as soon as the sun rises on Christmas Day, they will be out of town for good. Though Charlie is hoping to convince a lovely strip club owner named Renata (Connie Nielsen) to join him, his first priority is staying out of trouble for the next 12 hours. However, that may prove more difficult than it sounds.


Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. Even people who don’t take its religious aspect seriously have gotten tired of the rampant commercialisation of the holiday. And, apart from classic carols set to techno beats, few things are as annoying as the rash of syrupy movies that emerges every year around December 25. Now anti-Christmas fables like Bad Santa have begun to appear as an antidote to all the mush, and many of us welcome them. But even inveterate scrooges will have a hard time savouring The Ice Harvest.

This black-hearted cross between film noir and comedy is just too existentially gloomy to be any real fun. It’s all well and good to subvert Xmas ™, but there needs to be some hint of redemption. Everyone in The Ice Harvest really is as mean spirited and pathetic as they appear – there’s not a loveable rogue in sight. And things really do go from bad to worse with no hope of returning.

To make matters worse the comedy, such as it is, takes the edge off the noir, diluting the hardboiled atmosphere with a sense of desperation. It’s not impossible to successfully combine noir with comedy - the Coen brothers have done it several times, most notably in Fargo - but both the comic and the thriller elements need to be strong enough to stand alone. In this case neither aspect of the film is anything more than average.

That said, The Ice Harvest does offer its share of pleasures. Seeing John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton together for the first time since 1999’s Pushing Tin is a real treat, even though neither of them live up to the standards of that film. They are both credible enough, but their performances are too derivative of previous roles to make much of an impact.

The supporting cast are a lot of fun, with Oliver Platt having a whale of a time as Charlie’s drunken friend Pete and Connie Nielson vamping it up as the moll of the piece. Randy Quaid makes the most of his small role as the terminally irritable gangster, lending the film some much-needed guts towards the end.

On the whole though, The Ice Harvest misses more often than it hits. Don’t be fooled by the film’s pedigree, director Harold Ramis may have found success with comedies like Groundhog Dog and Analyse This, but he seems strangely out of his depth here. The screenplay by veterans Richard Russo and Robert Benton, is full of great dialogue, but the plot is nothing special, and Ramis’s wishy-washy direction only exacerbates the sense of deja vu.

But the film’s real Achilles’ heel is, ironically, the heart of its premise. Many people enjoy anti-Christmas fables, but no-one wants to see Scrooge or the Grinch actually win. Instead of amusingly cynical, The Ice Harvest comes across as a nasty piece of work, like a practical joke that ends up hurting someone.

So, if sleaze, death and desperation is your idea of a good time, then The Ice Harvest is your kind of film, but anyone in search of holiday cheer had best stay at home.

- Alistair Fairweather
A black Christmas-crime-comedy that's a little too heavy on the black, and way too light on the comedy.

tieho 2006/10/25 3:12 PM
miss renault
TARIK 2006/11/01 8:45 AM
gcobani 2006/11/07 3:50 PM
deniro none
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