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The Ice Harvest

Review Written by: Will Penley
Film: A
Video/Audio/Extras: A/B+/B+

Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Richard Russo and Robert Benton
Based on the book by: Scott Phillips
Produced by: Albert Berger
Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid, Connie Nielsen, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Oliver Platt, Lara Phillips
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

"As Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls."

Harold Ramis has made some really hilarious films like Groundhog Day and Analyze This since he started directing. His latest film, The Ice Harvest, a dark comedy set in the icy town of Wichita, is one of his absolute best works. The film is based on a novel by Scott Phillips, a novel that I haven't read yet but really want to. The Ice Harvest plays like a classic film noir piece with its stark photography and slippery characters being very reminiscent of a crime-thriller from the '40s. The film's two stars, John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, have never failed to impress me with their portrayals of great characters like Rob Gordon (High Fidelity) or Karl Childers (Sling Blade) and this is another great film to add to their resumes.

It's the night of Christmas Eve in Wichita and mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his associate, a strip club owner named Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), have just stolen two million dollars from feared Wichita mobster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). The two thieves intend to leave town the very next day. That is if they can survive the night. Throughout the film, they encounter several strange and wonderful characters like Renata (Connie Nielsen), who runs the Sweet Cage strip club, the foul-mouthed club bouncer Sidney (Ned Bellamy), mob enforcer Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) and lovable drunk Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt in a scene-stealing performance). Things are going very well for Charlie and Vic until everyone begins to notice that the two of them are acting much stranger than usual.

I really love films that combine the genres of crime-thrillers and comedies like Get Shorty and Fargo and The Ice Harvest is a fantastic addition to this list. It's a very tight and fast-paced film that runs only 89 minutes, making for a very swift and non-time-consuming. The script is fantastic and includes very realistic dialogue a la Pulp Fiction. The cast and director are at their very best here. This is an excellent film and will most definitely go on to become a classic. Now on to the DVD. The anamorphic widescreen video on the disc is excellent and the aforementioned bleak photography is presented very well. The Dolby 5.1 track is pretty good, although you will probably require subtitles on the first viewing.

Universal isn't known for great DVD releases, but they've provided a bevy of extras for this DVD. This is surprising, considering the film didn't exactly do gangbusters while it was in theaters. The extras start out with two alternate endings, both of which are much darker than the one featured in the final cut. I'm actually very glad these endings were discarded because I love the ending as it is. A fantastic extra on the disc is a scene from the film featuring Cusack and Thornton, but in this version Thornton does the scene as his character from Sling Blade. "Cracking the Story" is the first featurette on the disc and includes novelist Scott Phillips and screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo discussing how the story evolved from the book to the film.

"Beneath the Harvest" is a standard making-of featurette that includes the cast and filmmakers sharing their thoughts on how the film turned out. "Ice Cracking: Analysis of a Scene" is a brief breakdown of a central scene in the film. This is an extra we've seen before, but it's interesting enough. The final extra is a good audio commentary by director Harold Ramis. There are some gaps of silence in this track, but he provides a lot of insight into the making of the film. Overall, this is a very good DVD with several extras, but the quality of the film is reason enough to purchase it even if there weren't any extras. That's how good it is.

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