When your town has more than two strip-clubs, you know you need to get outta there!
In the small city of Wichita, on the eve of Christmas, Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), a lawyer who makes a note of backing-up mobsters, has just seized $2.1 million from a mobster that employs him. However, Charlie can’t do all of this stealing on his own, so he includes Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), a guy who is more used to this type of stuff. The two originally planned on getting the money and high-tailing it right out of town, but there’s a huge snow-storm that hits them, making the roads nearly impossible to drive on. So, as befuddled as they may be, Charlie and Vic decide that it’s best if they just stick it out til the morning, lay low and make sure that the gangster whose been looking for both of them (Mike Starr), doesn’t actually get them, and everything will go according to plan. But, as we all know with these sort of heists stories, not everything works out so perfectly for everybody involved, and more often than not, ends with some blood being shed. Well, in this case, plenty of blood actually.
It’s a shame that Harold Ramis has left-us. No, not because there’s no longer any hope that he’ll show-up in the unnecessary Ghostbusters 3, but because he truly was a talent in front of, as well as behind the camera, that always seemed to know when it was right to hit our funny-bones, and when it wasn’t. Sure, most of us know that he made such comedic-classics like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and even Analyze This (I guess it’s considered a “classic” in some circles), but know of us really know that he had a bit of a darker-edge to him as a director; the kind of edge not many of us got to see until later in his career.
Some would even say, too late in his career, but I digress.
When looking at a plot like this, you can’t help but automatically think of Fargo, or any other Coen Brothers flick ever made, because that’s exactly what it is: A dark comedy about people being bad, in a small-town and having to make some deadly decisions to ensure their safety. Of course though, what usually is able to make or break these flicks is in its way of being able to balance out the heavy, dramatic elements of the violence, bloodshed and death, with all of the humor that can usually come from a movie when you have likable, colorful characters involved with said elements. Here, Ramis is clearly capable of handling both sides of the coin, as we get from an early impression, that the movie is going to be all about whether or not these guys can get out of this town with the money, and try to stay alive as well.
Instead, what we eventually get here is a story about a guy we can’t particularly like, nor can we particularly hate neither in the form of Charlie Arglist. Same could be said for just about everybody else in this flick – most notably, a drunken-friend of Charlie’s (played by the always-lovable and cheery Oliver Platt), who also just so happens to be married to his ex-wife. The guy may make an ass out of himself throughout the whole movie, but it’s an act that never gets old, which is mostly thanks to both Platt’s acting, as well as the script being able to give him more than just what is on the surface.
But I couldn’t help see this in just about every other character here, which allowed for the movie to be more than just a small-time caper-flick. It gave us people to care about, even if they weren’t particularly likable or morally perfect, and best of all, heightened the story’s emotions just a tad bit more. Even if all of the back-stabbing, twists, turns, surprise deaths and double-crosses became a bit tiresome by the end, I still gave a crap about what happened to most of these characters, besides not wholly showing us why I should feel this way. I guess I just did, and I guess that’s attributed to Ramis and his way of being able to juggle heart, humor, violence, sadness and character-development, all while rarely missing a beat. And even if some beats were missed (like in the last half-hour when a familiar-face shows up and is too cartoonish for their own good), they weren’t too noticeable that they distracted me from all that worked so well with this picture.
Though I could keep on talking about Ramis and practically give him a “tribute” of sorts, what it really comes down to with this movie what makes it work is John Cusack in the lead-role as Charlie Arglist. Cusack’s not really stretching himself here by playing a cold-hearted criminal, with slight ounces of humanity, but he does so well with it that you don’t really care if you’ve seen him go at this sort of thing. You get an early-impression that Charlie isn’t a good guy, but you still see that he cares for those around him, he just has a bad way of showing it most of the time. But still, as much as we dig deep into who this person is, we still get the idea that Charlie really wants that money, but most of all, he wants to get it while being alive. When watching, you won’t be able to help feeling the same either.
Same sort of goes for Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Vic, although it’s clear early on, just by the casting of Thornton alone, that he’s not always up to being good all of the time. Still, when we do get to see him, he keeps on surprising us and makes us think just what his next move will be, and how he’s going to affect Charlie, or anybody else around him. Connie Nielsen is also here as the stripper that Charlie is practically head-over-heels for, and is playing it like an old-school, noir dame where she smokes, talks smack and is always showing some skin. Heck, her name is even Renata! Doesn’t get anymore old-school than that! Anyway, she’s hot-as-hell, but also shows that her character may have a whole lot up-to-her-sleeve, that isn’t for the greater-good of Charlie’s well-being, nor anybody else’s for that matter. She’s just exactly like a real woman, screwing-up every man’s life that just so happens to be in her path. What a devil.
Consensus: Gets a bit too loose by the end, but for the most part, the Ice Harvest is a little dark, a little funny, a little mean-spirited, a little dirty, a little smug, a little sweet and pretty damn surprising in the way it goes about telling its plot, and introducing to us characters that have layers. Wow. A comedy with meaning. Gosh, I’m gonna miss Harold Ramis. RIP bud.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!