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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Ice Harvest (2005)

"As Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls."
- multiple characters

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: February 27, 2006

Stars: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen
Other Stars: Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid
Director: Harold Ramis

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and sexuality/nudity
Run Time: 01h:28m:00s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 025192629624
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+B C+

DVD Review

The typical heist film is 90 minutes of foreplay for people who get off on bank robberies. The Ice Harvest, an uncharacteristically grim black comedy from Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), was advertised as a heist movie, but unfortunately, we've arrived late and missed the money shot—the crime in question occurs before the film does, and we spend the next 80-odd minutes with partners who aren't so sure, now that they've gone all the way, that they didn't perhaps, make what's known as a "life mistake."

Based on a novel by Scott Phillips, with a screenplay by Robert Benton and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo (Empire Falls), The Ice Harvest provides a comedic twist on familiar noir themes and a dreary Midwestern setting (a rainy Christmas Eve in Wichita Falls, Kansas). John Cusack is Charlie Arglist, with a last name that tells you all you need to know: theoretically a successful mob lawyer, he's a sad sack who rarely stands up for himself, either to his ex-wife or his boss. He surprises himself, then, when he agrees to go along with his friend Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) on a plan to steal $2 million from local mobster (they have a mob in Kansas?) Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid).

This is the crime we've walked in on. Now, all Charlie and Vic have to do is act natural for a few hours, and then hightail it out of Wichita Falls. It doesn't quite work out that way. Charlie starts off on the wrong foot, visiting his favorite strip clubs and picking up drinks and paying stage fees for the bored strippers, who are pissed about working the holidays. Renata (Connie Nielsen), the club's owner and Charlie's secret crush, can see right through him and quickly guesses what's up. She asks if she can leave town, too, as new laws will make lewd dancing illegal in the city come January 1.

There's also the matter of the big lug asking around about Vic and Charlie; it seems Guerrard knows what's up and wants his money back. He gets to Vic first, leaving a few bodies in his wake before he winds up locked inside of a trunk. Now, rather than simply getting out of town, Charlie and Vic also have to clean up a trail of bodies. And come to think of it, Charlie isn't quite sure he completely trusts Vic, who might be planning a double-cross. In the meantime, he has to wrangle his drunken pal Pete (scene stealer Oliver Platt), who is married to Charlie's ex-wife, not that Charlie minds, nor does he have to guess why Pete is drunk on a holiday.

This is one of those movies that finds humor in moments of shocking violence, but it's more ironic than comic. The criminal slip-ups and betrayals hold your interest, but there isn't a lot of depth to any of the characters, who are all self-absorbed and fairly nasty. It all gets a bit oppressive, even with a running time shy of 90 minutes, but I think anyone who complains about this movie because none of the characters are very nice is missing the point.

There is a kind of absurdity in the complicated series of events that plays out amid a bad winter storm. The hit man stuffed in a truck who still manages to shout out muffled death threats. The energetic young cop who wants Charlie to put in a good word for him with the local crime boss. The merits of a Lincoln versus a Mercedes when you've got a corpse to transport to a frozen lake. Ramis juggles the comedy and the cruelty ably enough, though anyone going in expecting a lot of laughs is going to be disappointed.

The Ice Harvest isn't deep enough to be called great, but it does what it does well. If anything else, it will make you think twice about stealing a couple million from your favorite hoodlum. Trust me, it never turns out as well as you'd think.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a fairly strong transfers for a difficult film—the photography is as dark and icy as the subject matter, and all the blue filters and shadows present a problem. Shadow detail is a bit lacking in the darkest moments, which tend to look a little murky, while the blue-filtered scenes tend to look a little grainy. Otherwise, detail is generally good and there's little to note in terms of edge enhancement or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Ice Harvest is hardly an action film, but the subdued DD 5.1 audio mix isn't bad. The front soundstage is nice and wide, presents dialogue clearly, and features frequent stereo separation and left to right panning. The surrounds add atmosphere (most noticeably the sound of wind whipping across barren Kansas landscapes), and augment the score.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by by director Harold Ramis
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Billy Bob Thornton outtake
Extras Review: Ice Harvest opened to fairly negative reviews and promptly vanished from theaters, but the DVD treats it like neither a box office flop nor a critical rotten tomato. Director Harold Ramis starts things off with a rather low-key commentary. He covers all the usual ground; fans will enjoy it, but it's nothing essential. There is some nice discussion of the debate over the ending, which I appreciated.

Along those lines, we also get two alternate endings, both markedly darker than the one that made it into the final film. Though I like the theatrical version fine, it's pretty obvious that both alternates (which are basically the same; one is just longer) are more tonally appropriate.

Cracking the Story is an amiable 17-minute chat with novelist Scott Phillips and co-screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton. They talk about the themes of the book and film and the care that went into the adaptation. Phillips is pretty happy with the movie, it seems, and all his favorite parts made it in. The 13-minute Beneath the Ice is a more typical making-of, and covers the cast and filming and everything else we now know far too much about thanks to lots of featurettes just like this one.

Anatomy of a Scene offers a six-minute breakdown of the work that went into the climactic confrontation on a dock over an icy lake (it wasn't really a lake, but a buried swimming pool dressed up with digital effects). The piece combines interviews and on-set footage, and provides a nice look at the effort that goes into creating seamless visual trickery.

Finally, Sling Blade fans will want to watch the brief Billy Bob Thornton Outtake (you know you're a star when they start naming DVD extras after you).

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A darkly funny, unapologetically nasty tragicomic caper, The Ice Harvest reminds us that crime doesn't pay, unless it does, in which case, not as much as you'd think. Universal's fine DVD could help turn it into a cult hit, but it's definitely not for all audiences.


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