Home Video Hovel- Thin Ice, by Jack Fleischer
I don’t want to give too much away about Thin Ice. It’s a movie that seems certain to head in a familiar direction, but at the last minute it goes somewhere else. It’s fun, the performances are decent and endearing, and while it ever so lightly stumbles over its twist ending, it’s absolutely worth a watch, and maybe even another one.
Mickey V. Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) sells insurance. Maybe he’s good at it and he’s hit a string of bad luck, or maybe he was never good at it and all of his lies have just started to unravel. One way or the other, he’s trapped in a collapsing house of cards. So when he sees the opportunity to pull himself out of his morass, he grabs it. His salvation takes the form of a semi-senile man named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) and a valuable violin. Yet, what starts off as merely a fiddle swindle, turns into murder thanks to a mustachioed security system installer named Randy (Billy Crudup).
Between the Kenosha, Wisconsin snowscape, the murder, and the Midwestern mope caught in the middle of it all, the parallels to Fargo are obvious. However, this is not a remake of the Coens’ classic. Thin Ice is a different creature; lighter, gentler, and with an ending that feels natural, but in a small way leaves the story feeling incomplete.
We’ll get to the story, but really it’s the performances here that stand out. Billy Crudup once again surprises with how much he can embody a role. Kinnear also delivers with a guy you dislike, then you hate, and then you feel sorry for, pulling along the audience the whole way. Probably my favorite of the small parts is David Harbour (Quantum of Solace, The Green Hornet) as “Bob.” Harbour is the perfect person to play a Bob — any Bob. Alan Arkin on the other hand is just okay. He puts on an accent, and it comes across as a tad hammy. This hurts because for the longest time he was my gold standard. I had a hard and fast rule that I would watch any film with either him or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in it.
Along with the performances, compliments must also be given to cinematographer Dick Pope (Bernie, The Illusionist) for making some really beautiful snow drapped images. The sister team of director Jill and writer Karen Sprecher also did a great job at bringing the whole thing together as a cohesive piece. Every actor, line, and image seems a perfect match for this film. My only complaint is that I think they rushed the wrap up of this story.
Like I said before, there are a few parallels here to Fargo. Yet this movie is truly a different beast. I don’t want to tip off just what kind of genre this film actually falls into because I feel it would detract from people’s first watching. While I don’t think spoilers are necessary in a film review, I also think it’s unfortunate when a movie can be so easily spoiled. In this case, the twist changes the nature of the performances, and it doesn’t necessarily enhance them. I do think this led to my feelings about Arkin’s performance in particular. The ending also seems a bit rushed. By hurrying through the ending revelation, it makes the rest of the film seem somewhat hollow, although for some these same attributes may make the whole film seem lighter and funnier. I don’t think this destroys the film, I think it just brings it shy of being really, truly great.
The DVD release contains a few rudimentary special features, including a brief 25-minute “making of” featurette, the introduction of the film at Sundance, and some deleted scenes that aren’t particularly noteworthy. If I could have put this DVD together I would have loved to hear more from the Sprecher sisters, not only because they’re the only film making sister team I can think of, but because between “Big Love,” Clockwatchers, and Thirteen Conversations about One Thing, they’ve had a fair amount of success.
Thin Ice is a good movie, and depending on your tastes, this may even be a great movie. It’s well written, well acted, well shot. Really, it all depends on how you like your twist endings.