Title: Thin Ice
Director: Jill Sprecher
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, Bob Balaban, David Harbour
A kind of mash-up, slightly more poker-faced version of some of the same snowy ethical dilemmas faced in “A Simple Plan,” “Fargo” and “The Ice Harvest,” crime dramedy “Thin Ice” delivers a winning, if rather drolly underplayed, black comedy that tosses its protagonist into a pit of moral quicksand, and then chronicles his flailing attempts to extricate himself.
Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is a small-time Wisconsin insurance salesman whose ability to coast on his looks and smooth-talking charisma seems to have finally hit an end. With his business struggling and attempts at reconnecting with his estranged wife Jo Ann (Lea Thompson) floundering, Mickey is stuck in a rut. At a regional insurance conference, Mickey runs into Bob Egan (David Harbour), a wet-behind-the-ears would-be agent looking to make a start in the industry for his new family. Sensing a source of valuable income, Mickey takes Bob as a mentee, and starts showing him the ropes. When nice-guy Bob declines to put the hard sell on eccentric retired farmer Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin, in a great supporting performance), peddling him coverage he doesn’t need, Mickey later returns to seal the deal (and the commission) himself.
It’s here that Mickey’s appetites begin to come into play, and place him in increasingly compromised situations. When he finds out that Gorvy is in possession of a violin appraised at many thousands of dollars, Mickey befriends him and offers him a for-trade swap. After that plan unravels, Mickey even works up a duplicate to switch out and fool Gorvy. But the locksmith, Randy (Billy Crudup), that Mickey cons into letting him back into Gorvy’s place turns violent, and dramatically ups the stakes.
A selection at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it originally played as “The Convincer,” “Thin Ice” could have benefited from some tightened screws and an increased sense of ratcheted up tension. Director Jill Sprecher (“Clockwatchers,” “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing”), who co-wrote the script with her sister Karen, delivers plotlines that satisfyingly thicken — like a porridge left out to cool – and wrings a delicious, squirming sense of uneasy fun out of Mickey’s worsening predicament. But in focusing on working in ADR inclusions to highlight and underscore various power-play dynamics between the players, Sprecher misses a chance to just let Kinnear cut loose and go insane — to turn Mickey’s sputtering disbelief to a full boil of righteous rage, and scald the audience.
Kinnear has always, for better or worse, been a bit trapped by those throwback matinee idol looks of his (one reason he was so good as Bob Crane), which are a good fit for a guy like Mickey, who is smart enough to have gotten to the the level of achievement he’s reached, but also myopic enough to think no one could ever really be much slicker than he. Coming off as Kevin Spacey by way of John Boehner, Kinnear does a bang-up job of playing the bewildered Everyman, while Crudup — an underappreciated actor with the ability to impress his will upon scenes in sly, savvy ways — gets to play a bit wild and crazy. It’s a fun tango to watch, this cracked “Thin Ice.”
Written by: Brent Simon