Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Ice Harvest
Review by Sombrero Grande

The darkly comic crime thriller The Ice Harvest sports a well-written script, is skillfully directed, and features a good cast acting at the top of their game. Geez, what more could you want in a film? That being said, this movie isn’t going to suit all tastes; events can get a tad gruesome (though never over-the-top) and awfully dark (especially for a “Christmas movie”). If you’re in the mood for more than a little mayhem with your mistletoe or perhaps a severed toe in your stocking, The Ice Harvest probably won’t leave you cold.

Charlie (John Cusack) and his partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) execute a heist, stealing around two million dollars from the local mob boss on Christmas Eve. Of course, the “perfect crime” ends up going perfectly wrong before the night is through as their escape plan is stopped cold in its tracks. How The Ice Harvest rises above its clichéd premise is thanks to the highlights I pointed out above.

The story unfolds with the delicacy of origami; the audience is let in on vital story points slowly and intentionally, which is why I’m not going to describe any more of the plot than I already have. Information relating to the true identity of Charlie, for instance, is deftly spelled out through the boisterous, inebriated ramblings of his severely plastered friend (Oliver Platt). Plot twists are handled with care to ensure the audience won’t see them coming.

As good as all the actors are in the film, Platt has to stand out as a true crowd-pleaser. Seldom is a drunken oaf played so exquisitely as to both repel and attract the audience at the same time. He’s a tragic clown, a villain and a victim, making it easy to see why Charlie sticks by him despite all the problems he causes.

Director Harold Ramis, who’s had his strings of hits (Groundhog Day) and misses (Bedazzled), serves up some nice visual touches throughout the film, like the distinctive neon green color to show where the weapons are stashed under the bar or the distorted panes of glass in the restaurant that only let certain spots be seen clearly. While The Ice Harvest is considerably more violent than his previous mob comedy (Analyze This), Ramis never overdoes the violence or gore, just shows you enough to get the point across. While a more amateurish director probably would have reveled in the grotesqueness of the murders, here they become more grisly and impacting for not showing the entire thing. This is perhaps more akin to what the violence level in Fargo should have been.

Something else The Ice Harvest definitely has working in its corner: the jokes are actually funny. Some of the laughs are dark--very dark--but the genuine humor is a much needed and appreciated opposing force to the grisly details of much of the films’ events. The Ice Harvest walks a fine line between comedy and horror with remarkable skill.

The DVD treatment of the film sports three short documentaries, Ramis’ commentary, two alternate endings and a rather useless outtake where Thornton plays Vic as if he were his character from Sling Blade. One beef I have with the DVD presentation is that there’s a montage of snippets from the film that play before the main DVD menu (and cannot be skipped!) which pull from several important scenes in the film, including the end! With more and more consumers waiting until a movie arrives on DVD to see it for the first time, this feels like a bad move implemented only to refresh the memories of the few who originally saw The Ice Harvest in a theater and are now buying it to own. It’s a needless addition that I’ve sadly seen more and more on DVDs lately and nearly enough to make me nostalgic for the early days of DVDs with static, boring menus. We really don’t need all these extra “bells and whistles” on our DVDs, especially if there’s a chance they’ll spoil or skew our enjoyment of the film itself. For a movie that revels in the slow, methodical revealing of its secrets, and is sure to be more enjoyable the less one knows about it beforehand, the DVD treatment itself seems to be working at a cross-purpose.


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