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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.19%
Worth A Look44.93%
Average: 17.39%
Pretty Bad: 5.8%
Total Crap: 8.7%

8 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Ice Harvest, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Will come to be considered a modern minor classic of film noir defeatism."
5 stars

Having headed for box-office oblivion after a tenth-place opening during a busy Thanksgiving weekend, 'The Ice Harvest' is the best 2005 movie nobody's seen. With any justice it'll rally on DVD and find a new life as a moody film noir cult film -- which is what it is, despite the slapstick-heavy ads.

The movie finds John Cusack back in morally tenuous territory after too long in romantic-comedy hell; true, Cusack was once the prince of romcom, with Say Anything as his crown, but he has aged (can he really be pushing forty now?) and gained complexity, and he should never again have to stare longingly into a leading lady's eyes unless he's just shot her or been shot by her. He's meant for darker, more astringent stuff now -- The Grifters pointed the way, Grosse Pointe Blank sealed the deal -- so The Ice Harvest is excellent news.

Cusack is Charlie Arglist, resigned to his lucrative if soul-deadening gig as a mob lawyer. A mob lawyer in Wichita, Kansas, yet. Are there even any mobsters in Wichita? Apparently so, and they're as slovenly as you'd expect -- even lower-level wannabes like Spider in GoodFellas would sneer at these mooks. Charlie has lifted some serious cash from one of Kansas' illustrious crime bosses -- Bill Guerrard, played by Randy Quaid with a welcome sense of menace after too many, well, Randy Quaid roles. Charlie's partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton in yet another finely tuned dyspeptic-scummy performance), who sells porno, had the idea for the theft but not the means to carry it out; he needed Charlie, trusted by the mob and presumably allowed access to strip-club backroom vaults where $2 million might be stashed.

The Ice Harvest puts itself to bed within a short, sharp 88 minutes, yet it takes its time, pausing to soak in the depressed atmosphere weighed down, as in The Ice Storm, by freezing rain. (The two movies would make fun companions, as both concern repressed passions -- for cash, for sex -- that heat up when the weather outside is frightful.) Director Harold Ramis has previously shown a knack for dialogue and for working with comic actors, but until now I pegged him as a styleless director. Working with cinematographer Alar Kivilo (who shot the equally frosty A Simple Plan), Ramis discovers the gun-metal-blue despair of a town on its uppers (the movie was actually shot in Illinois). Men like Charlie, or like his soused buddy Pete (Oliver Platt, going over the top of caricature into real pathos), stare at themselves in dingy mirrors in bars and wonder how they got where they are. Will money fix it? No, but it might ease the pain.

You may have gathered that the movie is not a laugh-fest. It was sold as such, but what you take with you are the unstressed crime-does-not-pay moments that emerge from action rather than speeches -- a bad man sinking in freezing water under the weight of his wife; a character shuffling uncomfortably on a foot he's just pulled a knife out of; the general malaise of strip clubs with bruised strippers and femmes fatales like Renata (Connie Nielsen), who owns one such club and keeps herself going -- or perhaps amused -- by hoarding embarrassing photos of hypocritical local politicians performing non-Christian acts with the paid talent. The Ice Harvest, though, has an eye-opening pedigree (novelist Richard Russo and Oscar-winning writer/director Robert Benton -- who adapted Russo's Nobody's Fool -- are the screenwriters), and the movie is more about the failed humans in this web than about the clever weave of the web itself.

Cusack, effortlessly projecting decency even in this squalid environment, gives Charlie enough self-aware wit to recognize how far and how cheaply he's sold himself out. He grounds The Ice Harvest in identifiable reality; Charlie is too smart not to see the sewer he's swimming in, but too depressed to respond to the crime around him with anything but more crime. The movie, thank God, is not one of those twist-ending-for-its-own-sake thrillers, or one of those Tarantino clones pitting quirkily violent men against each other without having Tarantino's sense of irony. It has its own cold heartbeat.

If that appeals to you, I suggest you give 'The Ice Harvest' a rental, because when a lot of you tell me you want intelligent movies made by adults for adults, you're asking for movies like this one.

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originally posted: 01/21/07 15:55:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/25/17 JD Daynes The perfect Christmas film for anyone who's not feeling Christmas. I love it! 5 stars
2/25/14 Uowxoxqj Hemsley is one of the back of a binary options strategy coincidence to overlook., <a href=" 2 stars
12/20/13 Ken Markson Great film! It's poor showing must be the result of advertizing a comedy - which it's not! 5 stars
9/13/11 Tim Darkly funny and richly involving - too bad it didn't get better reception when released. 4 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Great Cast!! 4 stars
5/14/08 Matt Even the excellent Billy Bob can't stop this from being soooooo forgettable. 2 stars
5/09/07 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 3 stars
3/30/07 fools&#9835;gold If you're too careful, you won't laugh, and you'll be bored, and that's why it's great. 4 stars
1/28/07 mets1986 Very underrated..Oliver Platt is fantastic 5 stars
10/18/06 AJ Muller well-done flick, dark laughs, great turns by primo cast 4 stars
7/05/06 Phil M. Aficionado Feel I should like it more because of the actors, but it suffers from genre confusion 3 stars
3/07/06 Monday Morning VERY disappointing work from H.Ramis. Wasn't good comedy, black or otherwise. 2 stars
12/02/05 The Don Johnson 60 minutes suck, 30 minutes are hilarious. Drunken Oliver Platt is extremely funny. 3 stars
11/29/05 soldi its ok but not so good not worth going to it in cinema just rent it when it comes out 3 stars
11/28/05 KingNeutron Lots of good dialogue, and a couple of shockers. 4 stars
11/28/05 Elizabeth S It's bleak, violent and filled with lowlifes . . .but I liked it! 3 stars
11/26/05 khalid30 ok 3 stars
11/25/05 Idiot_for_LMP Cusack as always stellar performance! Go See! 4 stars
11/25/05 baseball-nut I'd suggest John Cusack stick with the serious stuff, he's not a very good comedian! 2 stars
11/07/05 mahgoney ubelivably great 5 stars
10/24/05 Drew Ebanks 'Written by' category should include the novelist Scott Phillips 4 stars
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  23-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (15)


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