Download of the week: The Ice Harvest
Exactly the sort of movie people tend to discover on DVD and download these days, The Ice Harvest is a twisty mystery thriller in the style of the Coen brothers' Blood Simple and Fargo. Too low budget to command much of an advertising push, and too mainstream to kick up much critical attention, it fell through the cracks when it came out in cinemas in February, but deserves your attention if you fancy some yuletide distemper this summer.
A post heist movie, I suppose, it begins at dusk on Christmas Eve with two-bit mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) walking out of an office with $2 million of his best client's money - the thing being, the client doesn't know about it yet. Charlie and club owner Vic (Bad Santa himself, Billy Bob Thornton) plan to celebrate Christmas somewhere hot, sunny, and a long way from Kansas - but the first flight out of town isn't until the early hours of the next morning. In the meantime, they just have to play it cool and make sure they don't attract any attention on themselves.
Trouble is, the congenitally miserable Charlie is in such a good mood, he can't help but arouse suspicion in anyone who knows him. Add to that, his best friend Pete (also his ex-wife's husband) is going on a monumental bender (kudos to top scene-stealer Oliver Platt); there's a dodgy hoodlum trying to find him; and the more he drinks, the more Charlie kids himself that the luscious Renata (Connie Nielsen) might come along for the ride if she only appreciated his true - new - worth.
Director Harold Ramis is best known for his comedies (exhibit A would be Groundhog Day) and there's a sly black humour running underneath many of the lines here - but that's true of many classic film noir, which tend to be built on the perception that life is a bad joke at man's expense. Ramis doesn't amp up the thriller trappings either - the foundations are laid deep enough that much of the movie's mildly sadistic pleasure comes from just watching a couple of stressed, unhappy white middle-aged men slowly unraveling in bars and strip joints over the course of Christmas Eve (the choice screenplay is by novelist Richard Russo and writer-director Robert Benton, who previously collaborated on Nobody's Fool).
The Ice Harvest takes its own sweet time to get to where it's going. Unlike Charlie and Vic, it knows that the journey is more important than the destination.