Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and Sexuality/Nudity
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Richard Russo, Robert Benton
(based on the novel THE ICE HARVEST by Scott Phillips)
Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid, Mike Starr, Ned Bellamy
When someone brings up the topic of Christmas movies, they usually involve comedies with shenanigans that can be related to in the most wonderful/stressful time of the year (e.g. CHRISTMAS STORY and CHRISTMAS VACATION). My favorite Christmas film is actually a dark crime-comedy set on the night of Christmas Eve. The holiday makes for a interesting backdrop for the bloodshed and thievery being shown on the screen, but the film is also a piece of yuletide noir (which is an unusual combination to say the least).
Taking place on the night of Christmas Eve and the early morning hours of Christmas, we follow Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) as he attempts to get away with “the perfect crime.” A crooked lawyer for the mob, Charlie has stolen over 2 million dollars from his boss (who happens to be the head of the mob in Kansas) with the assistance of his sly partner in crime, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton). Weather conditions have left the two with no other option but sticking out Christmas Eve in Kansas and leaving in Christmas morning with the loot. Trying to act normal, Charlie discovers that a hitman is looking for Vic and himself. Running into a drunken former client (currently married to his ex-wife), things become more complicated and the bodies begin piling up.
THE ICE HARVEST is unlike any other Christmas movie that you’ve ever seen. It’s pitch-black in tone, but at the same time Christmas “cheer” litters the scenery. The film is beautifully and the story sucks you in immediately. This feels like you’re stepping into this increasingly outrageous situation with a cast of interesting characters. Each one of the cast members here delivers a performance that brings their unique character to life. I loved watching all of them and the dialogue is nothing short of brilliant (it feels like some of the greatest Tarantino lines that Tarantino never wrote).
Charlie is a likable character, even though he admits in the opening narration to not having any real “character.” Billy Bob Thornton plays the dim-witted Vic very well, but doesn’t make the character into the all-out one-dimensional idiot that he could have easily been portrayed as. Speaking of idiots, Oliver Platt gives nothing short of a great performance as the drunken Pete, Charlie’s best friend and former client. Even though he does have moments of dumb slapstick (which don’t feel out-of-place in the slightest), Pete is a lovable moron who drinks far more than he should, but is oddly sympathetic. Meanwhile, Connie Nielsen shows up as Charlie’s love interest. Randy Quaid (known for playing Cousin Eddie in CHRISTMAS VACATION) is the head honcho of the mafia and menacingly evil as the center villain (mainly saved for the intense final third of the film).
Some scenes that would seem menial in any other crime-caper (such as a dinner scene at Charlie’s ex-wife’s family’s house) feel essential to the story, even if they only provide some of the comic relief (which had me laughing hysterically). The film also doesn’t shy away from some rather graphic violence, but again it’s essential to the story being told. It’s dark, but also loaded with a ton of laughs throughout. This is the best of both worlds that is always seen in Guy Ritchie movies, but it happens to be set on Christmas Eve. For a movie with so many laughs to be had, there’s also some serious tension building throughout the perfectly paced running time. More than a few clever plot twists find their way into the mix and make for a movie that’s just as intelligent as it is entertaining.
Christmas time is a celebrated and revered season of the year, but it doesn’t mean that the crappy weather doesn’t suck. Nor does it diminish the disgusting commercialism of the latest fads whoring themselves out to gullible consumers. It certainly doesn’t make the interactions with annoying relatives any less uncomfortable. Where most movies show the cheery side of the holiday, THE ICE HARVEST revels in the dark side of it, but does so brilliantly. Personally, this is my absolute favorite Christmas movie of all time! The combination of hilarious moments, tense build-up, and a steadily growing body-count make for a fantastic time for fans of dark comedy, crime thrillers, or a combination of the two.
Over the years, THE ICE HARVEST has become a hidden gem and remains criminally underrated. This deserves to become an unconventional holiday classic. Even if it never does (and it probably won’t), I will always see it as worth a necessary viewing every December and that’s the highest praise I can give it!