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John Cusack……….Charlie Arglist
Billy Bob Thornton……….Vic
Connie Nielsen ……….Renata
Randy Quaid……….Bill Guerrard
Oliver Platt……….Pete Van Heuten
Mike Starr……….Roy Gelles
John Cusack is an actor that everyone knows and loves. The image of him standing in front of a house, Peter Gabriel music flowing from a boom box, is the lasting image from Say Anything that is embedded in the hearts and minds of audiences. He may not get the greatest of roles in the greatest of movies, but he does enough to be considered a good actor doing the best he can with what he’s given. He does a lot of thankless roles, like being the charming everyman in bland romantic comedies, and he’s able to bring likeability to every part he has. And in The Ice Harvest, it would normally be hard to root for Charlie Arglist.
Arglist is a lawyer under the command of Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Charlie and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have just stolen $2 million from the mob boss and want to leave Wichita Falls, Kansas, to start new lives with it. When a mob hitman (Mike Starr) shows up looking for the duo, they have to lay low until they can leave town. With Charlie’s lust for a gentleman’s club owner (Connie Nielsen) leaving him a bit sidetracked, the duo are left to their own devices to try and leave the town with the money. Set on Christmas Eve, Charlie also has to contend with his best friend Pete (Oliver Platt). Pete has gotten incredibly intoxicated to prepare to deal with his family and in-laws with whom Charlie shares a common bond: Charlie’s ex-wife is now married to Pete. Throw in a few twists and turns and The Ice Harvest is a much better film than it really should be as it dodges and weaves its way through the small town underworld.
Credit Cusack and Thornton for bringing a certain sense of flair to their roles. Cusack makes Charlie, a rather unlikable character, into someone we can sympathize with. Vic, a member of the adult entertainment establishment, is played with wonderful abandon by Thornton. Almost typecast as foul-mouthed characters nowadays, Thornton brings a wonderful charisma to a thankless role. Charlie is the brains behind their scheme, Vic the guts, and together they plan a rather ingenious film that combines what both lack. Vic isn’t bright but is willing to go out on a limb to make a lot of money whereas Charlie is incredibly bright to match his rather timid mindset when it comes to matters of theft. They have a great chemistry together that allows for a lot of disturbingly funny moments.
It doesn’t hurt to have a director with an eye for comedy behind the camera. While Ramis may be best known by audiences for his parts in Stripes as well as being Dr. Spangler in both Ghostbusters movies, he’s also directed some cleverly amusing movies. While The Ice Harvest doesn’t have the quality writing of Groundhog Day or Caddyshack, Ramis is able to let Cusack and Thornton carry the load and make the best out of what they are given.
It doesn’t hurt that Ramis has a great cast to work with as well.Ã¯â‚¬Â Quaid, Platt and Nielsen may all be character actors, but they’re good for the roles required. Ramis doesn’t need or want them to do any more than they really ought to; he plays to their strengths. Nielsen is a talented actress, for sure, and he allows her to have a more sensual quality to her. It’s easy to see how Charlie could be infatuated with her; she dresses sexy, but not trashy, and has enough allure that even the women who work at her strip club don’t measure up.