So, last night I rented The Ice Harvest, based once again on my trust in John Cusack's choices in terms of scripts. It looked like a safe bet, a darkly funny film noir with Cusack and Oliver Platt, who rarely turns in anything but a great performance. Billy Bob Thornton's name on the poster didn't make my eyes light up - I find his work and his choices to be spotty at best. But Harold Ramis was directing - Ramis directed Groundhog Day and dozens of other marquee movies, so he's always going to be solid. I figured it was worth the risk.
And ... I guess it was. It's one of those movies that I mostly enjoyed, but would hesitate to recommend to anyone who didn't have precisely my sense of humour and appreciation for the genre
.Based on the novel by Scott Philips, The Ice
Harvest is a comic film noir set in very cold and icy Wichita,
Kansas. John Cusack is Charlie, a soft-spoken lawyer who works
for local mob boss (Randy Quaid). Charlie hangs out in
strip clubs, pines after femme fatale Renata (Connie Nielsen), and basically watches life happen all around him. Ready
for a change, he and the much more hardened Vic (Billy Bob
Thornton) steal $2.1 million from the boss and plan to play it cool
before leaving town, trying not to create suspicion. All they need to
do is make it through Christmas Eve--but of course Charlie spends the long night getting caught up in a series of
very funny, very dangerous, and very bloody events.
Film noir is tricky stuff, I find. Done well, it is breathtaking - the twists, the turns, the suspense, deceipt, raw sensuality, danger, and always that black, black sense of humour. It's such a rich, structured genre - the unsympathetic loner, the femme fatale, the secrets buried in riddles wrapped in mysteries that pull all the characters along and draw the audience deeply into the story. Body Heat, Body Double, Blood Simple, Chinatown - all of them dancing along a fine line. One step in the wrong direction, and you slide over into camp. A slip the other way and it's just ... well, boring.
Ramis walks that line admirably, I think - a few missteps here and there, but by and large he knows where the laughs are hidden when the lights go low. The script is mostly solid and there are some laugh-out-loud moments (I love it when gangsters meet surprising and grisly-but-comically-ironic ends).
Oliver Platt is brilliant as a drunken pal married to Charlie's ex-wife - his performance alone is worth the price of the rental; and Connie Neilsen (who I literally could not remember from any of a half-dozen other movies I've seen he in, including Gladiator) was delightfully steamy as la femme dangereuse. Billy Bob was ... well, Billy Bob - I don't ever see much depth or variety in how he plays characters, once you take Sling Blade out of the equation. And Cusack was ... well, Cusack. Puppy dog looks, sardonic grin, bafflement, self-doubt - this movie certainly played to all his strong suits.
The Ice Harvest moves towards a fairly brutal and violent ending, so be forewarned. As I say, if you love films noirs and join me in thinking they just don't make enough of them (of any real quality), you should probably give this one a run. If you're lukewarm on the genre, or just looking for some straight comedy, don't be fooled by the packaging - this is not a yuk-a-minute chucklefest. (Although, that particular phrase? Is.)