Midwest tale of morals, murder
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Apr. 6, 2012
At first glance, "Thin Ice" looks like a poor man's "Fargo."
Set against the backdrop of a dreary, Kenosha, Wis., winter, and starring Greg Kinnear as an insurance salesman with money problems who gets mixed up in a crime and its spiralling cover-up, it's got many of the same ingredients as the earlier film. Expect an array of goofily earnest supporting characters, as well as a dose of violent black humor.
But apart from the structural parallels - and the often uncanny resemblance of Kinnear's Mickey Prohaska to William H. Macy's Jerry Lundegaard in the Coen brothers classic - the two movies are very different. Chief among the dissimilarities is the absence of anyone like Frances McDormand as the appealingly no-nonsense cop, Marge Gunderson, whose dogged investigation of the malfeasance at the center of "Fargo" gave the film its stout heart and dark humor.
Instead, the action of "Thin Ice" is seen through Mickey's eyes. And while Kinnear is generally likeable, his lightweight antihero is an odd choice to anchor the film. Mickey's a liar and a thief, which makes him hard to love; the actor's affability makes him a little hard to hate.
Maybe that's a good thing. We do have to care about him, even if he is a criminal - though he doesn't start out as one.
As a salesman, Mickey is just this side of unethical. When he stumbles upon a valuable violin in the possession of an elderly and possibly senile client, Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), Mickey decides to steal it. The theft is accidentally witnessed by Gorvy's straight-arrow friend Frank (Peter Thoemke) and a volatile ex-con named Randy (Billy Crudup). When Frank tries to call the cops, Randy gets nervous and kills him.
Suddenly Mickey finds himself at the mercy of an unexpected and unstable new accomplice - who now wants a piece of the action - and who pulls Mickey even deeper into much more serious crime.
That the movie is half over before any of this happens is another small problem with the film. It's just a little slow getting started.
But when this sleepy little film wakes up - thanks largely to Crudup's edgy, off-the-wall performance - it never settles back down. Crudup is funny, creepy and mesmerizing as Randy. When he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off him.
The second half is not just a different movie from the first half, it's ultimately what makes "Thin Ice" so very different from "Fargo."
Much of "Thin Ice" plays out like that 1996 film, where wrongdoing is compounded by a snowballing comedy of errors, and where the Midwestern moral code is never lost sight of.
Then bam! A killer twist ending comes barreling into "Thin Ice," knocking you off your feet.
Crafted by writer-director Jill Sprecher and co-writer sister Karen - a filmmaking duo who are sometimes jokingly referred to as the "Coen sisters" - it will erase any lingering memories of "Fargo."
Contains obscenity, brief violence and sexuality.