Directed by: Jill Sprecher (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing)
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, David Harbour, Alan Arkin, Lea Thompson, Bob Balaban
It’s been 11 years since Jill Sprecher attracted a good deal of attention in the indie/art film world with Thirteen Conversations About One Thing—a movie that seemed a lot more profound and interesting at the time than it does today. This time, she and her co-writer sister, Karen, have shown up with a quirky black-comedy crime thriller—or rather the distributor’s version of it. What Sprecher originally made, it seems, was a movie called The Convincer that ran about 113 minutes. What the producers and distributor have given us is a recut, re-scored, 93-minute movie with outtakes stuck into it called Thin Ice. Whether this significantly hurts the movie—or possibly even helps it—doesn’t change the fact that this is not the film Jill and Karen Sprecher intended.
That does not, however, make Thin Ice uninteresting or lacking in entertainment. It may, however, account for the feeling that some people have that the ending feels awkward and something of a cheat. I didn’t particularly feel that way, though I did end up thinking that the film was choppy, too plot-driven and alogether too much like Fargo-Lite. Some of that may have been different in the original cut, but the comparisons to Fargo are probably inevitable. Just move quirky characters with regional accents to another region (Wisconsin) with slightly different accents, drop the pregnant police sergeant, and the film feels rather similar. Well, except for one thing—the Sprecher Sisters don’t have the Coen Brothers’ knack for dialogue. What that leaves you with is a story that almost completely rises or falls on the twists and turns of its plot. Fortunately, these are engaging enough to support the movie’s running time.
In essence, Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is a remarkably dishonest insurance salesman with a gambling problem, an estranged wife (Lea Thompson), and the firm (yet uttlerly unfounded) belief that he’s smarter than everyone else. His entire life is given over to making “the score”—any score—by taking advantage of anyone not as bright as himself. (In other words, he thinks, anyone.) The only thing that gets in his way is his tendency to succumb to any temptations that crosses his path, though he succumbs to these in the certain knowledge that he’s smart enough to turn them to his advantage. Through a series of events, he steals a potential sale from one of his own agents, Bob Egan (David Harbour, The Green Hornet). It’s a policy on the home of a slightly addled old farmer, Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), and it turns out it comes with a bonus.
The bonus comes in the form of an old family violin being appraised by expert Leonard Dahl (Bob Balaban), who tells Mickey that the instrument is worth around $30,000. Since it just so happens this is the amount Mickey needs to cover a shortfall at the office, he opts to steal the instrument—or at least trade Gorvy a ride into town for it. And this is where the real trouble starts—including, but not limited to, murder, blackmail and a certifiably insane locksmith (Billy Crudup) with a criminal past. I won’t say anything more than that about the plot, except to note that every time it seems things can’t possibly get worse for Mickey, they do. It’s convoluted and clever, and on that score it works quite nicely and benefits from good casting. But if you’re looking for something substantial beyond this, you’re looking for a different movie. That said, Thin Ice is undeniably entertaining. Rated R for language, and brief violent and sexual content.