The Ice Harvest

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Ice Harvest Movie Poster Image
Dark comedy about a mob lawyer who steals $2 mil.
  • R
  • 2005
  • 88 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Cheating, lying, stealing, killing, vomiting.


Stabbing, shooting, fighting -- all as " comedy."


Sexual slang (references to acts and genitalia); strippers pole dancing; seductions as means to other ends.


Many, many f-words; crude language used in anger, frustration, and drunkenness.


References to Subway, liquor brands, car brands (Lincoln, Mercedes).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters drink, most often to the point of drunkenness (including while driving); cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie isn't for kids. A holiday comedy of the Bad Santa type, it shows repeated arguments among friends and family members: one man argues with his wife; a young boy yells at his father; another man shoots his wife (off screen); two best friends eventually bond over their mutual hatred of the woman they have both married, one after the other. Characters lie, cheat, fight, and vomit. They drink to drunkenness (one from a flask while driving), smoke cigarettes, and hang out in strip clubs. Acts of violence involve handguns, shotguns, knives, and cars.

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What's the story?

Mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) tries to commit the "perfect crime" in THE ICE HARVEST. Charlie has just stolen $2 million from his gangster client (Randy Quaid). Worse, he's working with seamy strip club owner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton). Charlie's ex-wife's new boozing husband, Pete (Oliver Platt), self-medicates to deal his miserable home life. Charlie and Pete bond on Christmas Eve over their shared experience of violence and fear, and Pete's childish rebellion against his in-laws and abusive, icy wife. As Charlie careens between brash and tentative, he follows the usual noiry hero's route, descending though he knows better. The partnership with Vic is bound to unravel, and then he meets sultry Renata (Connie Nielsen), who tries to seduce him to get what she wants but is clearly not interested in him. Charlie appears to know this, but he uses Renata too. She keeps his mind off what he sees as his most immediate anxiety, for a minute anyway.

Is it any good?

For all Charlie's running around -- in driving rain and icy road conditions, to boot -- the film never picks up speed. If Charlie appears energetic, if not exactly inspired, it's only because he's in constant, circular motion. Surrounded by antic dunderheads and furious bunglers, he responds as if mystified, though he understands and can manipulate such behavior. Charlie's positioned twice -- as conventional, self-aware hero and dim anti-hero, both sustained by the oddly convincing, refreshingly subtle, and relentlessly appealing John Cusack.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Charlie's limited vision. Though he feels angry, frustrated, and in his way, ambitious, he's unable to imagine his way out of Wichita except by the very means he despises: betrayal and violence. How does Charlie look relatively rational, compared to his mostly crazed associates? How is he positioned between other male characters (who are miserable and not-so-smart) and women (selfish, conniving, and mean-spirited)?

Movie details

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