Even if I disliked Thin Ice, I'd still have major sympathy for co-writer/director Jill Sprecher, who seemed to have went through hell and high water just to get this film a release. Thin Ice was originally released to Sundance under the name "The Convincer," in a one-hundred and fourteen minute cut that received strong reception from audiences and critics. However, the studio that purchased the film insisted that the score be redundant, the editing reworked, and the pace of the film increased, making the picture ninety-three minutes instead of one-hundred and fourteen. Sprecher, obviously embarrassed and frustrated, has basically given up on Thin Ice and likely looks at it as a sore spot on her career.
That note alone should make one hesitate before publishing something negative about the film. It makes me consider my position as an online film critic deeper, too. Here I am, a viewer of many movies a year (last year almost five-hundred) by choice, and I don't always take into account the effort it takes to make a picture and the stress that numerous people likely go under. Thin Ice is a perfect example of a film I hesitate to review because I feel as if I have not seen the real thing. The ninety-three minute cut has received mixed reception, contrary to the original films near-acclaim.
Regardless, I find Thin Ice - in and of itself - a solid crime caper. The story centers around Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear), a third rate insurance salesman in a dire financial predicament, looking to invest in something that will increase his reliability, win back his wife, and get him out of the frigid, merciless conditions the Wisconsin cold has brought him. He teams up with another man to try and sell Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), an elderly, senile farmer, insurance despite knowing the man doesn't have much money at all. When Mickey discovers he has an expensive-looking violin, he has it appraised only to realize it is slightly rare and valued at $25,000.
This seems all well and good until Randy Kinney (Billy Crudup), a local con-man with an unstable temper, discovers Mickey's plans and, in the process, kills one of Gorvy's neighbors. Now, in an effort to save his own skin, Mickey must work with Randy to cover up the murder, while trying to turn a profit from Gorvy, and sneakily sell his violin for what soon becomes an unruly amount of money.
One film that will cross nearly every mind that watches this film is Fargo, the Coen brothers classic. The entire picture seems like a spin off of the film, from the similar plotpoints to the locational weather to the darkly funny direction the film takes. Despite this, Sprecher and her sister Karen do a bold job of making this film stand on its own, simply because of the way events are piled on each other in a rapid-fire order and how the twist is tacked on at the end.
The acting, however, is the film's strongest feature, with Kinnear, Crudup, and Arkin being on top of their game in terms of convincing performances. Kinnear is a great everyman, but he has a way about playing a man who has a bigger, brasher internal view of himself in contrast to the way he actually appears. This kind of character's mannerisms are seen in the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine, where he played a father hellbent on selling success advice in a cheap twelve-step book. Here, he plays a deadbeat husband hellbent on selling insurance in a cheaply wrapped package and achieves the same level of success.
Meanwhile, Crudup's character is a tricky one to pull off. He is a character that requires the actor playing him to go from collective to explosive in a matter of seconds akin to a time-bomb. This works tremendously in contrast to Kinnear's "gotta keep everything subtle and cool" persona. Finally, it should come as no surprise Arkin is great here, but the role is made more special because it shows Arkin as something he rarely is - gullible.
Ultimately, there are issues in Thin Ice that need to be addressed. The pacing is a bit too fast and the opening is a tad sluggish when it should look to grab our attention. However, these are issues that I am almost certain wouldn't exist if the original cut had been released like it should've been. The product we are left with is pretty solid and an easy thing to recommend, but the entire thing almost feels like a cliffhanger that has no writer to complete it.
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, and Alan Arkin. Directed by: Jill Sprecher.
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