Monday, October 28, 2013

Thin Ice (2011)

Director: Jill Sprecher                                   Writers: Jill Sprecher & Karen Sprecher
Film Score: Jeff Danna                                 Cinematography: Dick Pope
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Lea Thompson and Billy Crudup

In the tradition of black comedies like Fargo and suspense films like A Simple Plan, Jill Sprecher’s Thin Ice sneaks up on the viewer, beginning with what seems like a domestic tale of a down on his luck insurance agent who has a bit of a gambling problem. But eventually things turn dark when his attempt to make a small score, with a small-scale theft in order to set things right again, turns terribly wrong. Greg Kinnear plays the hapless agent, a man who can’t help himself and lies to everyone. On the road in a small Midwestern town, he gives a seminar to prospective agents on how to make sales. At the bar that night he meets a woman and takes her back to his room, but when he wakes up the next morning she is gone . . . along with his wallet.

Back at home we learn that he is separated from his wife, Lea Thompson. He’s also taken on a beginner agent, David Harbour, who hasn’t tested for his license yet, taking sixty-five percent of his commissions in the process. It’s not until Harbour takes him out to see Alan Arkin that the wheels start turning. While he’s there, instrument appraiser Bob Balban turns up and tells him the violin Arkin inherited is worth twenty-five thousand dollars. Kinnear offers to buy it, but apparently Arkin’s dog loves the sound of it. Kinnear goes back later to swap the violin with a cheap copy, and locksmith Billy Crudup has to let him into the house. But when Arkin’s neighbor shows up and picks up the phone to call the cops, Crudup attacks him with a hammer and kills him. It’s then that things go south for Kinnear, and his association with Crudup turns into a nightmare he can’t seem to wake up from.

Kinnear, who first made his mark in You’ve Got Mail and then cemented his reputation in As Good as It Gets, is superb here, especially at the beginning of the film. He has a sly knowingness, a hubris that is perfect for the predicament he gets himself into. He plays it straight, all the way through, which adds tremendously to the comedy effect. Arkin, of course, is masterful as the doddering old man. Crudup is the psychotic ex-convict and plays the part perfectly. The supporting cast is also excellent, including David Harbour as the apprentice agent and Michelle Arthur as Kinnear’s secretary. Most of the criticism of the film has to do with the ending. Instead of the resolution coming in a natural way, the complaints are that the script has Kinnear spending several minutes simply narrating the reveal. The thing is, with this type of film, the reveal has to be this way, and several other similar films end exactly the same way. Perhaps this one goes on longer than most, but I still found it a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Apparently the studio took the film away from Jill Sprecher, edited it in the way they wanted, removing characters and such, and changing the title, which had been The Convincer. The poster for the film even went so far as to copy Fargo by proclaiming in bold letters: Kinosha, Wi! She was so upset with the result that she asked the studio to remove her name from the film, which they didn’t do. Supposedly there was going to be a video release that included Sprecher’s original film, but there’s been no sign of it thus far. While Thin Ice has received mixed reviews, I was delighted with it from start to finish, even before the final reveal. And that surprise ending has endeared the film to me even more. If you like films like Fargo, give this one a chance.

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