Don’t Look In The Bag…

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When a nasty man tells you, “Don’t look in the bag,” just don’t look in the bag, damn it.

The Bag Man, a David Grovic film from 2014 (also titled Motel and The Carrier) gives John Cusack another turn as a really, really bad guy that we inexplicably find ourselves rooting for, just like we did in The Grifters, Gross Pointe Blank and The Ice Harvest. The film’s adapted from a John Russo screenplay with rewrites by the director, and based in part on Marie-Louise von Franz’ The Cat: A Tale Of Feminine Redemption. Joining Cusack are Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover and Rebecca Da Costa.

Cusack plays one of bigshot gangster DeNiro’s hitmen, assigned to pick up a bag and wait for his boss at a rundown rural motel, with very strict instructions not to look in the bag. Seems simple, almost too simple to Cusack, and indeed it is, since things quickly spiral out of control with the arrival of a hooker who’s much more than she appears to be, and an ever growing body count that includes FBI agents, crooked local cops and fellow gangsters.

the bag man - rebecca da costa

The film is unrelentingly dark and unsettling, punctuated by sudden (and frequent) bursts of bloody violence. It’d be totally unfair to even hint at what’s in ‘the bag’, only to encourage darkly noir-ish crime film fans to check it out for another good performance from John Cusack, who does weary-and-flawed-but-redeemable better than anyone, and from Rebecca Da Costa, who makes a memorable bad ass, though I haven’t seen much from her since this project.

And remember…don’t look in the bag.

The Ice Harvest

ice harvest poster

Loved the book, though I read it after I saw the movie, and not all that long ago at that. Loved the movie too, a particular holiday time favorite of mine, which for some dark and twisted reason always feels especially Christmasy, despite the sleazy settings, crime and murders.

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Scott Phillips debut novel came out in 2000, and Harold Ramis’ film in 2005. The Ice Harvest takes place almost entirely on Christmas Eve 1979 in Wichita Kansas, where wearily cynical mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and crooked business associate Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) embezzle two million dollars from the mob and understandably need to hightail it out of town before their theft is discovered by local mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). But a nonstop ice storm and one complication after another have them corralled in town: Charlie’s drunk pal Pete (Oliver Platt) who’s now married to Charlie’s ex-wife, a side trip to locate incriminating photos of a troublemaking politician, a determined mob gunsel on their tail, repeated run-ins with the local cops and Charlie letting love (or lust, more likely) for local strip club manager Renata – played with beguiling charm by Connie Nielsen as one of neo-noir’s better femme fatales – almost be his undoing.

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Make no mistake. Virtually everyone in this film is rotten to the core. But you’ll be rooting for Charlie Arglist till the end, and the suburban Chicago locations that fill in for Wichita, Kansas make for strangely and authentically festive scenes. Being a noir-ish Noel of a film, though, those scenes are mostly sleazy strip clubs, cocktail lounges, gas stations and desolate roads. I missed this one this Christmas season, but I may not wait till December 2019 to give it another viewing. Crooked embezzler John Cusack, buddy Oliver Platt and even scheming Connie Nielsen are like my neo-noir elves.

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