On a frozen Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas, two amateur crooks – Charlie (John Cusack), a lawyer with mob connections, and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), the owner of a strip club – conspire to sneak off with two million in mob cash and get out of town as quickly as they can.
Innumerable obstacles, of course, make such an easy escape impossible. The mob boss, who is Charlie's own client, is somehow onto the heist; dumdums keep getting in the way (including Oliver Platt, in a role even larger than Thornton's, as Charlie's drunken buddy); and of course a sexy, sinister woman (Connie Nielsen) is involved.
While at first The Ice Harvest seems like a black comedy disguised as a film noir, in reality it's a film noir disguised as a black comedy. The laughs are bleak and bitter, the sense of doom is there from the get-go, and while there are no cramped apartments or dark alleyways, an icebound Wichita is claustrophobic enough.
This is a good B movie, and I mean that in the best sense, but comparisons with similar wintertime crime capers Fargo and A Simple Plan are unavoidable: this film falls far short of the practically perfect Fargo in terms of character, setting, and storytelling, and Thornton's work isn't nearly as interesting as his performance in A Simple Plan, which I feel is the best of his career.
The Ice Harvest still has a lot going for it. The acting and direction are as streamlined as the plot, the dialogue is toxic and crisp, and there are some mature reflections about the meaninglessness of things. So if the usual double-crosses lack any satisfying surprise, their very banality seems to fit the message.
I only wish that the film could have been a bit longer. It's admirable to kick off a heist movie after the heist, but clocking in at under 90 minutes, Ramis and company could have afforded a good 10-15 minutes of backstory, to tell us a little more about these characters are, why stealing the money is important to them (neither Charlie nor Vic seem particularly desperate for cash), and why we should care. There are hints scattered sparsely throughout the script that these two men are doing it because they just need some excitement in their pointless Wichita lives, but because I never got a sense of this ennui, I felt like I was missing out on something. Still, it's a nice, dark film, and worth a look.