Thursday, October 11, 2007

Essential Cinema - 8

The Ice Harvest

John Cusack
Billy Bob Thornton
Lara Phillips
Bill Noble
Brad Smith
Ned Bellamy
Connie Nielsen

Harold Ramis

Richard Russo
Robert Benton

Alar Kivilo

"As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls", this is the running gag that follows several friends through a long Christmas eve which interweaves their lives into a twisted plot of deceit, blackmail, booze, sex and murder. It is sort of like the adult version of American Graffiti. The players are taking big risks and constantly looking over their shoulder to see if anyone is on their tail. The saga of desperate people seeking a means of escape from the lives they have created.

Escape. Escape from the choices we have made and the lives they have trapped us in. We all wish we had made different choices and often fantasize about making a change that will set things right. However, in the end you don't really know who you can trust and what your friend's motivations are.

Initially, a slow moving story. I wasn't sure exactly where it was going for the first 30 minutes. Most of the beginning was character development and setting the tone for what was to happen later in the film. At first it appears to be a saga of depressing urban life set against the backdrop of Christmas in mid-America. The players suffer from alienation, lying, stealing and cheating and none of them appear happy with their lives. By the second half of the film things start to get interesting. While the resolution of the plot gets to be a little far fetched, the ending is satisfying and somewhat whimsical.

John Cusack in the lead role as Charlie, has a knack for finding characters such as this and he does a damn good job of it. His other films in this genre that come to mind are 'The Grifters' and 'Pushing Tin'. Sort of an every man's alter ego who eventually figures things out.

In the end, the film sinks to the violence and gore genre just a bit. When spattered with blood from the gunshot to the head of your enemy, do folks really wring their hands of blood and mutter 'ow, how gross'? And the conversations with the hit-man locked in the trunk on the way to the river are a bit absurd but rather funny. I walked away from watching this film with a smile on my face, thinking I would have made the same choices that Charlie made. Overall, it was better than I expected.

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