Christmas in Wichita Falls, but there’s not much comfort and joy going around. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton have just stolen two million bucks from mob boss Randy Quaid. If they can keep things together for just a few hours, they will be home free and off to warmer climes with their loot. But a huge thug is looking for them, Cusack keeps drawing attention to himself, and then there’s the question of whether these two can really trust each other.
Harold Ramis’ comic noir/black…comedy treads into Coen Brothers’ territory, and while the result is amusing, it’s no Blood Simple or Fargo. There isn’t quite enough mayhem or ridicule to push the film to the next level. Cusack is excellent as ever. He is one of those actors who can make a film seem as if it’s moving forward even if he’s standing still, and he incarnates an intriguingly complex character: amoral but likeable, utterly disgusted with his life and willing to do anything to make it better, though not holding out any hope for his puny efforts. Connie Nielsen, meanwhile, makes a fine femme fatale. The film is a fun piece of misanthropy, but could be more fun.
The soundtrack is first-rate. The score has an excellent mix – atmospheric without being overwhelming. The environmental effects are excellent: when our characters wander out into wind or rain, or are in a crowded bar, we are there with them. One is always conscious of a fully realized background, though it is not intrusive. The effects do not drown out the dialogue, though, and said dialogue, which covers the spectrum from Cusack’s quiet declarations to Quaid’s yelling rants, never overmodulates.
This is a film which takes place almost entirely at night (barring a brief scene at the end), so the blacks and contrasts better be good. I’m happy to report that they are. The blacks are very deep, but there is never any murk. The picture is always sharp and clear. There is no real grain, and never any visible edge enhancement. The colours are strong and very natural, and are just moody enough to fit the tone of the movie. The aspect ratio is a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Harold Ramis’ commentary is a pretty run-of-the-mill affair: he covers who is who, and how the film was made, and what it all means, and does it well, but the result is a bit dry. There are two alternate endings (rough edits but with the visual FX) and a hilarious outtake of Billy Bob Thornton delivering his lines as his Sling Blade character. “Cracking the Story” is an interview with screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton along with writer Scott Phillips, who wrote the novel on which the film was based. “Beneath the Harvest” is the usual making-of featurette, and “Ice Cracking” is a detailed analysis of the lake sequence. The menu’s main screen, intro and transition to the movie are animated and scored.
Nice package, and a likeable film, but it needs more darkness and edge to be as likeable as it should be. It’s still recommended viewing when you want some relief from the schmaltz next Christmas.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- “Cracking the Story” Featurette
- Making-of Featurette
- Alternate Endings
- “Ice Cracking: Analysis of a Scene”