Review: Thin Ice
PLOT: An insurance agent named Mickey looking to get out of Wisconsin finds his ticket to a warmer climate in the shape of a rare find. While setting up an old man to purchase an overly expensive insurance package, he discovers that his new client has a very expensive violin that he is looking to sell. Soon, Mickey is plotting to take the instrument but things turn ugly when an unstable locksmith accidently kills one of the witnesses and blackmails the inexperienced thief.
There is something to be said about walking into a film with no knowledge of what you are about to see. I was aware of the actors involved and I assumed it was a comedy, but that is all I knew about it in advance. In the credit sequence, the irony of a beautiful sunny locale starting off a movie entitled THIN ICE seemed intriguing. When we are introduced to Greg Kinnear as Mickey Prohaska, he felt like a good choice for a scheming insurance agent. Thus began a seemingly lighthearted satire on trying to get ahead in life without putting in the hard work. However – borrowing a bit from films life FARGO and SOMETHING WILD – this quaint comedy takes a decidedly dark turn about half way through.
The best thing about THIN ICE is that it is unpredictable for the most part. There are many twists and turns as we follow a desperate insurance agent looking for a big score. His big shot at fortune takes place after one of Mickey’s contract salesmen – an upstart by the name of Bob Egan (David Harbour) - helps to convince a weak old gentleman named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) to purchase an insurance plan. Mickey quickly steps in and convinces Gorvy that the more expensive the plan, the better he off he is. Stakes get really high when Mickey discovers that his new client has a violin worth a whole lotta cash. Since things are looking grim for the salesman and his business, he takes it upon himself to figure out a way to steal the violin, unwittingly involving a lock and key guy played by Billy Crudup.
Greg Kinnear portrays Mickey with a quiet sense of desperation. A true anti-hero, he is unapologetic and deceitful. He lies to his estranged wife Jo Ann (Lea Thompson) to try and win her back. He continually promises his receptionist (Michelle Arthur) that she will be moving up the corporate ladder. And when good old Gorvy and Bob come along, he is downright criminal in his misinformation. Kinnear offers an honest to goodness everyman persona, one that comes naturally to the actor. His Mickey is certainly not a likable character, yet he isn’t that far off from many people you may run into, at least those looking for a quick buck.
While Kinnear is a good choice for this particular film’s leading man, it is Crudup that really steals the show. In what may be the actors’ best performance, he lights a fire under the lock and key guy named Randy. This is one gentleman (?) that you would not want to mess with. Tall and lanky he stands as a blue collar worker who overreacts when questions get asked. To talk too much about how Randy fits into the scenario may reveal more than what should be revealed, but let’s just say he adds a frightening level of intensity and humor.
Director and co-writer Jill Sprecher may borrow a little too liberally from Joel and Ethan Coen however she is certainly able to keep things a little more grounded with her style. That is not to say THIN ICE is necessarily as cinematically powerful as something like FARGO, but it has a lot of charm to it. The style is nowhere near as eccentric and thrilling as a Coen Brothers flick, but it works on its own merits. Her focus on character moves the story along nicely with a little help from a clever script by Jill and her sister Karen Sprecher. The look of the film brings the heart and soul of Wisconsin to life, as it does the desire to escape from it. She also has a knack for casting, from Greg Kinnear to the lovely and talented Lea Thompson as his wife, all the way to the very eccentric Arken and Crudup.
THIN ICE is a surprisingly witty satire with bite. It may feel a bit too familiar with fans of the Coen Brothers, yet there is enough originality intact. The narration throughout works well enough until the final few moments when the entire set up is overly explained but thankfully Kinnear is able to pull it off for the most part. The performances are all terrific especially Crudup, and the freezing cold location make for one entertaining and sometimes dark little film this side of FARGO.