Thin Ice (2011)
“Greetings from Kenosha, WI! Where ordinary folks can make a killing.”
Director: Jill Sprecher
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin
Synopsis: A dishonest insurance salesman’s life quickly disintegrates during a Wisconsin winter when he teams up with a psychopath to steal a rare violin at the home of a reclusive farmer.
There’s something disconcerting about discovering the makers of a film you’ve enjoyed watching have disowned it, which is the case with Thin Ice (released in the States as The Convincer). Sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher, the writers and director of the movie, objected so strongly to post-production changes made to it without their consent or knowledge by the production company that they disowned it completely. One can only wonder what the sisters’ original vision was for Thin Ice, because as it stands it’s still an enjoyable thriller with a strong resemblance to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo in the way that events inexorably spiral out of the control of the film’s protagonist.
In Thin Ice, the protagonist is Mickey Prohaska, (played by Greg Kinnear, who shares many of the screen attributes of William H. Macy, the hapless protagonist of the aforementioned Fargo), a slick insurance salesman whose life is beset with emotional and financial difficulties. He’s living in a motel because his marriage is on the rocks and, despite driving around in a flashy motor, he’s knee deep in debt. It’s appearances that matter, even if they contradict reality — a theme which resonates throughout the picture.
One day, Prohaska pays a visit on Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), a potential client. Gorvy lives alone and is a little absent-minded, and while Prohaska’s at his house he sees a valuation for Hauer’s violin which is estimated at $300,000. He impulsively pockets the letter, and then offers to pay the old man $10 for the violin. This simple deception on the part of Prohaska sets in motion a chain of events that will result in murder. To reveal any more of the plot is pretty much impossible without giving away a massive spoiler which would pretty much wreck Thin Ice for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
The movie does contain one of those final reel twists that forces us to reassess everything we have seen — and subsequently felt — up to that point, and while the fact that it takes a five-minute coda to explain that twist suggests that the story is a little too convoluted for its own good it does provide a relatively satisfying moral lesson for Prohaska, whom it is difficult to like despite the movie asking us to.
Kinnear is an accomplished actor, and he gives a more than credible performance here. The fact that he is from the same mould as Macy has probably hampered his career a little, and this movie’s similarity to Fargo won’t do anything to dispel that association, but it does at least provide him with a rewarding role. In fact, the entire cast give terrific performances, and if Thin Ice fails to fully convince with its big reveal, it does at least provide an arena within which some fine actors can practice their craft.