This week in movies you missed: murder and chicanery in the land of ice fishing, with Greg Kinnear playing a silver-tongued bastard.
First, a special announcement: This Monday, June 18, the Burlington Film Society is meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Palace 9 in South Burlington to watch and discuss Polisse. This is a French drama about an urban child-protection unit: Think cop show with more gritty realism. It made a splash at Cannes, was a hit in France and got great reviews here, too. It's playing all week at the Palace. So don't miss it. If you live in the area, watch the BFS page for more meetups like this.
What You Missed
"Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see." That's the motto of Mickey Prohaska (Kinnear), an insurance agent who spends his life scaring and wheedling people into buying coverage they don't need. His constant hustling hasn't helped him escape frigid small-town Wisconsin — yet.
But then Mickey's guileless new salesman (David Harbour) introduces him to an old farmer named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin, pictured). Hauer doesn't quite understand the concept of home insurance (he decides he needs it because his TV is "broken," i.e., unplugged), but he does possess a valuable antique. It's a violin that, according to a sniffy Chicago luthier (Bob Balaban), is worth $25,000. The farmer, who doesn't know that yet, is letting his beloved Australian cattle dog play fetch with the instrument.
It's a setup that Mickey, who's having financial issues with his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Lea Thompson of Back to the Future, middle-aged for real now), can't resist. While Hauer is out of town, he'll pinch the violin and leave a duplicate in its place. What could go wrong?
Why You Missed It
Thin Ice had a respectable release in 53 theaters, none here. The director is Jill Sprecher, known for the '90s indie Clockwatchers and her work on "Big Love"; she cowrote it with her sister, Karen.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Imagine if Bob Odenkirk's slimy lawyer character from "Breaking Bad" had his own movie. Now imagine his solo caper played straight, in the manner of Fargo, with orchestral music (plenty of strings, naturally) swelling on the soundtrack.
Throw in some snow and excellent supporting actors, and you have Thin Ice. It's a fine showcase for Kinnear, who's at his best when using his sunny exterior to play nasty. Watching Mickey sneer at the easy marks who populate his town is fun — which is good, because for the film's first 40 minutes, that's almost all that happens.
At that 40-minute mark, Billy Crudup appears, playing a locksmith with a shady past and volatile tendencies, and Kinnear's character finally gets the foil he needs. The plot takes off, then, too, rocketing toward a fairly effective final twist.
If there's one thing missing from Thin Ice, it's a reason to care about Mickey. We enjoy watching him the way we might enjoy watching a spider stalk its prey, then get eaten by a bigger spider. None of the characters has been written with any depth, unless you count Gorby Hauer's lament for the good old days, when "you could leave your door open all night."
Arkin has a ball with this mysteriously accented rural eccentric, who may or may not be quite as clueless as Mickey hopes; whether hauling his huge change jar to the bank or strumming his precious violin like a guitar, he's the funniest part of the film. Crudup also gets in some good comic bits as a guy who commits violence with aplomb and really likes his cheese curds when he's done. And Balaban, as the violin expert, is deliciously hoity-toity. I'm guessing all these characters are funnier when you watch the movie for a second time, though I can't explain why.
Verdict: It's not Fargo or A Simple Plan, but Thin Ice is a solid comic noir that suffers from a forgettable title. If you liked those movies, check it out.
Other New Releases You May Have Missed
- The Assault (French action flick about a real 1994 terrorist attack)
- Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (bio-doc)
- Demoted (comedy with David Cross and Michael Vartan)
- Don't Go in the Woods (Vincent D'Onofrio made his directorial debut with a horror musical about a band that seeks inspiration in nature and finds mayhem.)
- In Darkness (During the Holocaust, Polish Jews hide in the sewers in this drama.)
- A Little Bit of Heaven (Kate Hudson gets cancer and finds love. Read this review to learn how a little-person prostitute figures in.)
- Norman Mailer: The American (bio-doc)
- Too Big to Fail (doc about the financial crisis from Curtis Hanson)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)