The Ice Harvest is one of those movies that must have looked great on the page (indeed, it's based on a novel of the same name) but isn't quite able to translate to the big screen. What viewers are left with are a lot of interesting scenes with good actors, but the sum of the parts doesn't add up to a whole lot. This Kino Lorber Blu-ray ports over all the bonus materials from the 2006 DVD, and provides a solid, if not spectacular, A/V transfer of the film. Still, newbies to the movie will want to Rent It before making a purchasing decision.
I love a good "dark" comedy as much as the next person, but The Ice Harvest doesn't work all that well, despite having a great cast and solid direction (from Harold Ramis). The movie is based on a novel that I never read, so perhaps fans of the book will get more out of the big screen version than I did, but I found this movie to be more about the individual scenes (a few quite good; others not so much) than a story that provided coherent entertainment from beginning to end.
The film focuses on Wichita, Kansas attorney (for the mob, no less) Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) who, as the story begins, has just stolen over $2 million from a mob boss in a heist that he's orchestrated with pal Vic (Billy Bob Thornton). The heist has taken place on Christmas Eve in the middle of a bad ice storm, so Charlie and Vic need to stay cool (pardon the pun) until the weather allows them to get out of town safely. The movie isn't about how they got the money (in fact, we never learn) but instead whether these two are going to be able to get away with what they've done.
While the scenes between Cusack and Thornton are quite good (arguably, Thornton is the best thing in the movie), the plot gets sidetracked with too many scenes involving Charlie's perpetually drunk friend, Pete (Oliver Platt), who is married to Charlie's ex-wife. If you like watching an actor play drunk on camera, you may enjoy Platt's performance here, but his scenes really seem wrong for what the rest of the movie is trying to be.
There's also pretty much zero chemistry between Cusack and co-star Connie Nielsen, who plays the owner of one of the town's (many) strip clubs. She learns of what Charlie has done and becomes involved in his plot to get out of town – but like all femme fatales in motion pictures, she's got a few secrets of her own to reveal before the end credits roll.
The Ice Harvest gets a little too bloody and violent for its own good in the final act, turning from a dark film noir comedy into more of a straightforward thriller. Again, the tonal shift is distracting as a viewer, and Harold Ramis's tacking on of a "happy" ending seems to be his final of many mistakes. This Blu-ray contains two Alternate Endings (which are pretty much identical) that would have fit the movie much better. While Ramis states in his commentary track that he chose the ending, I can't help but wonder if the ending is actually studio tinkering (the 89-minute runtime also suggests that the final edit may have been taken from Ramis – but I've found no confirmation of this online).
Although I can't quite recommend The Ice Harvest for purchase, it's not totally dismissible, either. It's less of a "bad" movie than a movie that just makes poor decisions. Perhaps it was trying to be too faithful to the book; perhaps it's not faithful enough (again, only those who have read the novel can answer this). I did admire the performances, and there's one excellent section right around the midway point where Charlie and Vic are trying to dispose of a body (still alive) that Vic has locked in a large trunk. But even if you're a huge fan of all the performers here, this is something you'll want to rent before adding to your permanent collection.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Ice Harvest thaws out on Blu-ray in a standard keepcase. The case holds the 25GB single-layer disc without any inserts, although the keepcase's slip is reversible (the flip side contains the artwork used for the 2006 DVD release). There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose main menu is a still of star John Cusack sitting at the bar area of one of the strip clubs in the film, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A locked.
The Ice Harvest was shot on 35mm film and is presented here on Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (despite a typo on the keepcase slick that states 2.35:1). The transfer here is assumingly one provided to Kino Lorber by Universal, the American home video distributor of this Focus Features production.
While the image lacks the deep colors and "pop" of a film shot on the digital format, details here are quite good and nothing about the transfer seems over-processed – providing viewers with a pleasant, film-like image, without any instances of heavy grain. Not having seen this movie before, I can't vouch for the color timing, but everything seems naturalistic and I detected no obvious problems with banding, edge enhancement, or excessive DNR use.
We get two audio options here (not counting the audio commentary track listed in our Supplements section below): a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Both tracks are well-done, and since the movie is pretty dialogue-heavy (although it does have a bit of action in it), the only real immersion that is felt on the 5.1 track is right after the opening credit sequence when the sounds of a ice storm surround the home viewer. Other ambient noises are a little less noticeable on the 5.1 audio, although it's obviously the track you'll want to go with. Dialogue is crisp and clear and no glitches in the audio were evident.
The Ice Harvest tries to be a lot of different things, and the tonal shifts throughout the film add up to something less that an enjoyable movie experience. Still, the actors here provide interesting performances, particularly Billy Bob Thornton, who may be the best thing about the movie. This Kino Lorber release provides a nice A/V transfer and, while it doesn't bring us any new bonus materials, ports all the extras over from the earlier DVD release. Still, I'm not sure there's enough here to warrant a purchase, which is why I'm suggesting you Rent It first.