The Ice Harvest (2005)

Directed by Harold Ramis

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The Ice Harvest is a crime movie that begins after the crime has been committed.  The co-conspirators are Charlie (John Cusack) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), and they’ve just stolen a couple million dollars from a man sure to kill them should he find out.

It’s Christmas Eve, and the two agree to lay low before skipping town the following day.  In that time Charlie, our protagonist, will visit just about anyone who means anything to him, which is somewhat odd considering it seems no one means anything to him.  He’s a criminal, you see, and a film noir criminal no less.  Such characters are devoid of attachments, to both people and things.  They exist like free floating bacteria, though they are people who often have ex-wives, and ex-somethings or other.  They once had commitments and responsibilities, but now they are out for only themselves.

Charlie is an odd noir hero because where others are haunted and pessimistic, he’s just kind of foolish.  He will soon realize his partner may have it in mind to kill him, a surprise which should be of no surprise to us but which exposes an unexpected naivety in our main character.  Then he’ll express a certain amount of affection for a classic femme fatale character who, in classic femme fatale fashion, has it in mind to kill him as well.

These are characters ingrained in the noir genre but who repeatedly catch Charlie off guard.  He’s a fish out of water, in many senses, but he’s a screw up all the same.  The only thing Charlie shares with a classic noir hero is their deep-seated melancholy and self-loathing. Other than that he seems to cling to a certain hope which the others just don’t have it in their DNA to accept.

That being said, there’s a scene in which Charlie tells a drunken friend, really his only friend left in the world, a story about his uncle, which boils down to the idea that living with regret is pointless, so don’t do it.  It’s something Vic might believe, but I’m not so sure about Charlie.  I don’t know if it’s that we’re not to trust him or if it’s just that he’s a lost soul, living by a code of ethics he doesn’t even believe in.

Essentially Charlie lives by a set of rules abided by only the most ruthless of characters.  These are trigger happy folks for whom everyone is a potential road block.  There is little, if anything, to redeem them, and in the end they all die.  Charlie, on the other hand, is much different, a character willing to believe and eager to please.

It’s like you’re an avid reader of some online community.  Everyone you talk to reflects your own pre-existing beliefs and opinions, and hey it’s just a good time talking to other usernames who parrot back whatever you declare about the world.  Then you meet them in person and find out they’re a bunch of cannibals.

At every turn Charlie will find something to surprise and horrify him.  Everyone, it seems, is either miserable or capable of surprising violence.  They expose their ugliest, drunkest, most violent sides, and it ends with perhaps a not so surprising amount of violence.  Even one of the more innocent characters receives a sudden bullet to the head (reminiscent of The Departed in its swiftness), but part of you might think he deserves it because, and I know it’s petty, he curses out Charlie under his breath.  Basically everyone in this movie does something, no matter how small, to suggest they’re capable of a certain amount of darkness.

And again this all takes place around Christmas.  It’s a time meant to be celebrated with the people who mean the most to you, and what we see is a bunch of corrupted souls who aren’t capable of any ounce of kindness.  When Vic asks Charlie what the hell he’s doing going around town acting nice, Charlie explains that well it’s his last night in town.  Vic suggests that acting nice might make others suspicious and clue them into what they’ve done.

Up Next: St. Nick (2009), The Game (1997), Primer (2004)

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