Thursday, February 23, 2012
It’s not easy being a criminal. It’s hard enough just being a regular ol’ devious and dishonest guy peddling overpriced insurance. That’s who Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is in Thin Ice. He runs a racket, but is good at doing it, and for the most part is comfortable in his skin and sleeps well at night.
Then he meets Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), a retired farmer. Not only is Gorvy old – and possibly senile – he’s also foreign. Arkin plays Gorvy with an accent I could never quite place. At first I thought it was Russian. Then I crossed that off and went with German. Then Austrian. It might be Scandinavian. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Gorvy has an old violin that is worth a lot of money, and greedy Mickey wants it for himself.
Then enter into the picture an ex-con and locksmith named Randy (Billy Crudup). Randy installs a brand new security system in Gorvy’s house so the old man can have peace of mind while he is away for a few days. In a scene that escalates from tense to brutal in the span of about five minutes, Mickey convinces Randy to let him into Gorvy’s house to get some “paperwork.” Of course, he is really there to steal the violin. While inside, a neighbor named Frank (Peter Thoemke) comes over to check on the house. He is immediately suspicious of Randy and Mickey and their flimsy story, so he threatens to call the police. This sends Randy into a violent rage, so he hits Frank on the back of the head and bludgeons him to death.
It’s at this point that the film takes a darker turn. Up until now, Mickey was a man getting by on lies, schemes, and double talk. He did what he did in order to get by and make things right with his estranged wife Jo Ann (Lea Thompson). The film was lighter and somewhat humorous. We watched as Mickey dug himself deeper into a hole and asked how he was going to get out of it.
Once the murder happens, a more ominous tone takes over. Mickey becomes racked with guilt and stress and looks like he is on the verge of collapse. Things become too complicated for him to handle. Not helping anything is the fact that Randy has a blackmail photo of Mickey standing next to the dead body, and can turn him in at any point. Randy also has an explosive temper. There is more than one scene where he completely flips out on Mickey. Crudup’s intensity is amazing. You can actually see the veins bulge in his forehead, and his eyes look like they’re about to pop out of his skull. I’m curious as to what Crudup’s blood pressure was like before and after this film. I’d be surprised if it didn’t go up at least a little just from playing this roll.
The director of this film is Jill Sprecher. She gave us the sharp and clever Clockwatchers, a kind of pre-cursor to Office Space, in 1997, and one of the best films of 2001 called Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, also with Alan Arkin. Both films, and this one, find ordinary people in over their heads in extraordinary and stressful situations. It seems to be her specialty. I would like to see her do a different type of film, but if this is all she wants to do, I’m fine with it as long as she keeps up the quality. I only hope I don’t have to wait another 10 years for the next one.
THIN ICE (3) • Directed by Jill Sprecher • Starring Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin •Rated R • 93 min •At Osio Cinemas.