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Wichita Kansas around Christmas can be as depressing as it is enjoyable. This is especially true when the freezing rain starts to hit town. While there are reminders of the purpose of Christmas in The Ice Harvest, there are also more than a few reminders of the difficult times. Truth is, that for many in Wichita, Christmas is tough, it is depressing, and it is dark. The Ice Harvest helps illustrate this. I unfortunately know this, because I actually live in one of the little seedy parts of town with numerous sex shops and strip clubs in the neighborhood of which I live, in Wichita.
In the tradition of Fargo Ice Harvest, a new film directed by Harold Ramis shows the dark, depressing, and yes, even sinful side of Wichita that many would like to ignore, especially many who live here. While the film is actually shot in Illinois and LA the backdrop is Wichita Kansas, during Christmas, and in the seedy strip joints that are all around the city. Truth is, even as recent news indicates, in Wichita Kansas, the heartland of America, sex sells and there is an abundance of sex shops around the city that help illustrate this point.
I went with my son in law to see this dark comedy, recently. When returning home we kidded around with my wife and daughter. “It is a little Christmas Movie that takes place in Wichita, staring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Randy Quaid and a wonderful little role for Oliver Platt. Oh yea, it would have one of the best Christmas soundtracks in a long time. We think we are going to get it.” My daughter a movie buff in her own right responds, “Yea I’m sure it is.” Well the truth be told that is what Ice Harvest is, but the whole truth is that it is about much more than that.
Charlie Arglest, played by Cusack, and Vic, played by Billy Bob Thornton have skimmed off of the top over $2,000,000 from their mob boss and operator of sex shops, Bill Guerrard played by Randy Quaid. He gets word of it and ends up sending one of his boys to Wichita from Kansas City to take care of business. Along the way, we, the viewer, are infiltrated from the first frames of the movie, until the closing credits, with images that blend in the joy of Christmas with the dark nature of sin. Particularly the religious side of Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, with the seedy dark side of sin, including, robbery, sex clubs, drunkenness, and a whole lot more, including a whole lot more of murder.
In the tradition of Fargo, the viewer is captivated with some of the darkest humor to come around in a long time. While there are scenes where the audience is laughing, it is more out of a release of tension than it is humor. That is, unless one can find humor in seeing individuals literally get their brains blown out. There are scenes of individuals that have been murdered while looking at their Christmas presents, and friends turning against friends. There are enough loops and turns in the plot that you never really know what to believe and who to believe. In some ways, not only can Ice Harvest be compared, I believe appropriately so, to Fargo, it can also be compared to last winters Bad Santa, also staring Billy Bob Thornton. In many ways, this film will be as offensive to some as Bad Santa was, unfortunately for those, they will refuse to see the hurting around them as portrayed in these two movies.
I must admit, that I was somewhat disturbed by the scenes that many, including myself at times found humor in. I think in part this is the intent of movies like this and especially Director Ramis who has a knack for thought provoking films and direction. The obvious struggle with this, is the joy that so many of us celebrate and take part in during the holiday season when the reality is that so many around us are searching for answers and caught up in traps that keep them from experiencing the joys of the season. Nowhere could this be more evident than in scenes that include a stripper or nude dancer, having to work Christmas Eve instead of being with her children during the holidays. Another scene portrayed in the trailers is of a mob boss who is on assignment to take care of business and publicly complaining about it. An individual who is all the more upset, because he as well, is having to take care of business instead of being with his wife and children on Christmas Eve. The viewer is you might say, knocked up beside the head with a two by four, with the life that some of these characters live. Unfortunately, what we don’t think about at first, is that there are individuals who actually live these lifestyles and in some ways, the populace isn’t much different than them.
I was actually pleased with the quality of performances in this movie. From John Cusack, to Billy Bob Thornton, I have come to expect quality, and they don’t fail. I was pleasantly surprised with was the little role by Randy Quaid. His character, Bill Guerrard is not a typical character that Quaid normally plays. He is dirty, huge, and as evil as any Quaid has ever played. You find him disgusting, and everything about him including his appearance is dirty and disheveled.
Another character, who almost steals the show is Pete Van Heuten played by Oliver Platt. This may be the best role ever given to Platt and he gets everything humanly possible out of it. He is kind of an outsider in the film, who is taken in by everything around him. He is in some circles someone who might be called a wannabe. He is never satisfied with who he is, and as a result is trying to be around and be like others who have some recognition, including mob boss lawyers. He has confidence in himself, but a dangerous confidence that is made worse by alcohol. In some ways, this character is like all of us. He is someone who is perpetually walking on the edge of danger.
I continue to be intrigued by the blending of the Christmas symbolism with the dark evil lives of the characters in Ice Harvest. I will say that this ‘R’ rated film is definitely not for everyone. It has ample reasoning for its ‘R’ rating; just consider for example the backdrop of much of the film, in sex clubs. It is however, an unfortunate reflection on society in many regards. The opening scenes of the movie show a manger at a church, just prior to the coming of a Kansas Ice Storm. We see the freezing rain start to fall on the face of the Baby Jesus. In many ways, there is symbolism there as to the tears that would be coming from this babe at the events that are about to happen in the movie. While many may not be caught up in the things portrayed in the movie such as murder, strip clubs, robbery or the like, we may be caught up in so many of the things around us that we forget what the season is all about, just like the characters in the movie. In that scenario, we might be surprised to think about the fact that in some ways, we are more similar to the characters in the Ice Harvest than we would like to admit.
On a scale of 1 – 10, for the number of shots in some pistols, a concerning 7
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