Thin Ice

7 Mar

Title: Thin Ice
Year: 2012
Director: Jill Sprecher
Writers: Jill Sprecher and Karen Sprecher
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, Bob Balaban
MPAA Rating: R, language, and brief violent and sexual content
Runtime: 93 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Metacritic: 61

Thin Ice is a good film, one that could have potentially been far better, granted, but that’s still pretty good in its own right. It stars Greg Kinnear as Mickey Prohaska, small-time, financially-down insurance agent in a small town, desperately wanting to jump-start his business, get back together with his estranged wife and get out of the horrible Wisconsin weather. And like I said, I liked it a fair bit, it’s just that, at first viewing, you get the sense that this is a film that could have been more coherent. Because there will be times throughout it that you’ll think it’s tough to really make something out of this movie, but then at the end you’ll get a series of flashbacks showing other parts of previous scenes to make it all make sense. And that’s cool in the sense that at least you get answers and maybe seeing the film again after knowing that would be kind of cool, but it still feels cheap that the film would have been super messy without those final bits. Though, to be fair, the film goes through its many twists with an underlying sense of logic that I seriously appreciated, since that pretty much never happens in these kind of films.

Academy Award winner Alan Arkin co-stars with Mr. Kinnear here, playing a lonely and absent-minded farmer, who owns a rare violin unbeknownst to its actual value. Mickey thinks that violin may be his way out, he knows someone willing to offer up enough money fort he violin so that he could cover a nice part of his debts as well as maybe go to his company’s annual convention in the Caribbean. He thinks he’s a spin master, but as he gets greedier and greedier trying to con the old man the situation gets out of control. In comes Billy Crudup’s character, a nosy, volatile ex-con who installs security alarms a gets the sense that Mickey is up to something here, and decides he wants a piece of it, upping up the stakes of the situation and setting the table for a story full of twists and turns.

I’ve been hearing people making comparisons between this film and Fargo. It goes without saying that the Coen brothers are masters of their craft and that Fargo is close to being a masterpiece while Thin Ice is just fine, but the comparisons are bound to happen; the funny kind of noir, with the twists and turns and the very cold weather, you could say Billy Crudup’s performance in this one has a bit of Steve Buscemi’s in Fargo, and certainly Greg Kinnear tries to play desperation much like William H. Macy did in Fargo, though of course Mr. Macy got an Oscar nod Mr. Kinner won’t, you just didn’t sense the terror in him when things started to get out of hand as much. The comparisons to Fargo are both a compliment and a criticism I guess; you can see the potential this has, but you can also see how it could have been done much better.

Not to say Thin Ice is bad though, the twists are still super fun to watch happen, and it’s funny seeing Mickey, a guy who makes a living out working the angles, not being able to see the amount of shit that’s about to come down on him from doing just that. And I really don’t want to give more of the plot away because the script, written by sisters Jill and Karen Spencher, the former of whom directed the film, is all about being super deviant and offering up darkly comic surprises one after the other, you get the sense that they must have spent a good deal of time just planning this whole thing out. So I feel kind of bad for criticizing what obviously took a lot of effort to get done, and get done mostly right, but there’s a point in which they just go over the top, and the whole film starts feeling like a series of twists and turns, one upping the stakes of the other, but not really having that much of a point. And even when that final moments of explanation I mentioned above arrived, it’s not as though they’re of the “damn that all fits perfectly, it’s awesome” variety, but rather more like “oh, okay, that explains it”.

I realize I’ve been going back and forth praising elements and going hard on others, but that’s just how this film left me feeling. On one side it’s a pity that it got sort of pointless in its twists, and that it got a bit too dark and lost some of its original charm; but on the other side it has some pretty damn effective and funny performances (Mr. Crudup is especially good here), and it’s thoroughly entertaining, and it’s certainly very well-made, and there’s a logic tying together the many twists of this film, a really nicely crafted screenplay by the Sprecher sisters. So Thin Ice certainly was worth my time, even though it could have been far, far better than it ultimately was.

An added aside: After writing this review I went online to read reviews from other (far more famous, articulate and respected) critics that I respect, which is what I do after I write the reviews (though never before it so I don’t get biased by people I admire). I found out that many critics had similar problems with this film as the ones I had. When I was reading Roger Ebert’s three-star review he raised a lot the same points as I do here, but he had a footnote saying that Jill Sprecher sent him a letter explaining that the producers and distributor of the film re-edited it without her, cutting nearly twenty minutes, rearranging the structure and taking away many important elements from it, and that she and her sister don’t consider this film to be their work, even though their names are contractually still on the film. So yeah, maybe that explains a lot, maybe this was indeed poised to be far greater than it was, and it’s horrible when filmmakers go through this. Still though, even though it was tempered (presumably for the worse) I though Thin Ice was still a pretty good film.

Grade: B

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