Plot: What’s it about?
I’ll come right out and say it – any movie that’s directed by Harold Ramis is something that I’m automatically interested in. My all-time favorite movie is “Caddyshack” (me and millions of others, I’m sure). Right up there are some other great ones like “Groundhog Day” and even “Analyze This”. Yep, they were all directed and co-written by Harold Ramis. With “The Ice Harvest”, Ramis goes into a bit darker genre here. As the closing credits rolled, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d just seen a modern film noir or just a black comedy. Suffice it to say that the film contains plenty of both genres; I just think they couldn’t make up their minds as to what it should be. Never mind that, though because the movie is full of some great performances. Even though John Cusack is losing that baby face, he’s still one of my favorite actors. “The Ice Harvest” takes place in Wichita, Kansas – they make it look like a desolate place and as a former resident of Wichita I suppose I can say they’re right. However, they seem to make it look like a one horse town where the same police officer keeps turning up time and again.
As the movie opens we meet Charlie (John Cusack), a lawyer for some of Wichita’s seedier businesses and introduced as a “Mob Lawyer” by his drinking buddy, Pete (Oliver Platt). Charlie and local bar owner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have managed to embezzle a couple million dollars from Kansas City crime boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) and all they need to do is skip town. Now the trouble is that it’s Christmas Eve and Wichita is under an ice storm, making it hard for them to get to Kansas City and leave the country. As we might imagine, bad things start to happen making this the longest night of their collective lives. Thrown into the mix is Renata (Connie Nielsen), owner of another strip club in town and Charlie’s love interest. Charlie’s ultimate plan is to have her skip town with him and they’ll all live happily ever after. That’ll happen, right? Bodies start piling up and the plot becomes a bit contrived which turns “The Ice Harvest” on its side.
All of the elements were in place for “The Ice Harvest”, but like the crime that took place in the movie: all of the elements can be there, but something happens that messes things up. This certainly isn’t a bad movie and it does have some good parts but on the whole I felt something got lost in translation. Cusack delivers a good performance and Billy Bob Thornton does well as his seedy partner. Nielsen tries a bit too hard to do a Lauren Bacall and Platt overacts his role as comic relief. Aside from that, everything else is good! It’s a short movie and one that plays out in the course of an evening. Something about these types of movies just doesn’t work with me. Whatever your opinion of the movie, it’s probably not as bad as I described – but I’d rent before a purchase.
Video: How does it look?
“The Ice Harvest” is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks fairly good. Though I will say that about 98% of the movie is shown at night and indoors. The overall look and feel of the picture is somewhat grainy, but it’s done on purpose. Flesh tones seem a bit washed out and even with the dark nature of the movie, the levels seem consistent throughout. I caught a few instances in which the transfer seemed a bit off, but for the most part it was technically a good experience. No major complaints here, there are better transfers out there but far worse as well.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack adds some ambiance here and there, but the movie is mainly driven by dialogue. I caught a few scenes in which the surrounds kicked in (mainly during the outdoor ice storm) to offer some help, but the majority takes place in the front stage. Dialogue is clean and natural (so you’ll make sure to catch each and every “F” word uttered) as well. Like the video, the audio is above average and sounds more than respectable.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Universal has offered up “The Ice Harvest” with a modest amount of supplements, notably the audio commentary with Harold Ramis. Ramis gives an informative track and does a little explaining about the movie, plot and ideas behind everything. There are three featurettes: “Cracking the Story”, “Beneath the Harvest” and “Ice Cracking: Analysis of a Scene” which is probaby my favorite of the three. There are a few alternate endings and some somewhat staged outtakes with Billy Bob Thornton. “The Ice Harvest” certainly isn’t a bad movie, it just wasn’t great. I’d recommend a rental first and for the true fans out there, there’s enough on the “supplemental” side to warrant a purchase.