A mildly successful insurance salesman, Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is in some serious trouble, both career-wise, financially and personally. His wife has kicked him out of the house, and his business is less than thriving until one day he meets a potential customer, Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), a forgetful, possibly senile old man living alone in an isolated farmhouse. Gorvy has a violin that is worth some serious money, and Mickey sees the chance to "fix" so many of his problems....if he can con the old man. As he tries to switch out the valuable violin for a dupe though, Mickey is spotted by Randy (Billy Crudup), the security system installer, and now his simple dupe of a plan has become so much more, especially when Randy, an ex-con, takes action.
I liked this movie. I didn't love it, but I liked it. There are issues, especially late, but more on that later. Setting the story in Wisconsin, with its frigid winters, is a great start. Watching the movie, you feel legitimately cold. It's a sterile, white country where the trouble goes down (Minnesota filming locations), even resembling a similar quirky, unsettling story, Fargo. Also aiding the cause is composer Jeff Danna's score, always present but never overbearing. It hangs in the air around the characters, and that's partially what I liked best. Even though Mickey is a despicable individual, it's incredibly tense watching things develop. We're waiting for his perfect plan to fall apart so the atmosphere and sense of impending doom is palpable. So what happens?
For me, it was the last 30 minutes. No spoilers here, no massive revelations, but I came away disappointed with the twist that is thrown our way as viewers. Take this for what it's worth, but I didn't see the twist coming....AT ALL. I just wasn't looking for it so maybe that's my disappointment. Maybe 'Ice' didn't need this particular twist? Well, that's my first thought. Anyhoo, the twist is there. I can't change that. Thinking back on the movie, it works in terms of storytelling. Sure, there are certain parts that hinge on a little too much coincidence for my liking. A few too many perfect little things happen that no real-life individual could have planned on. Embarrassed viewer who didn't pick up on the coming twist? No, I don't think so. It just was an unnecessary departure in the story, for me at least.
Reading up on 'Ice' before I dove into the review (Yes, I try to do some research), some of my issues made a lot more sense when I read about this film's troubled past. Filmed in 2010, 'Ice' was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and purchased by a studio, and then that studio promptly demanded that huge changes be made. Director Jill Sprecher refused, wanting nothing to do with the flick, and then the changes in the name of pacing were made. A 114-minute long movie was cut to 93 minutes. I don't care what movie it is. If you cut 21 minutes from a running time, you're going to have issues. So again, take this for what it's worth. I liked this movie for what it was, not knowing it had been so severely cut. I'd love to see the 114-minute version and find out what it has to offer.
Enough with that background and back to the movie! The dark story and an impressive cast drew me in here -- negative reviews aside. Kinnear is one of my favorite actors around, able to be a true a-hole on screen while still rooting for him in a weird way. Go figure. Very good lead performance. Arkin is a scene-stealer as Gordy, the senile old man living with his dog on a far-off Wisconsin farm. Crudup hams it up a little much to my liking as the possibly unhinged Randy, but he certainly brings that unpredictable element into the story. Also look for David Harbour as Bob, one of Mickey's "understudies," Lea Thompson in a small part as Mickey's wife, and Bob Balaban as a violin expert interested in Gorvy's violin.
Thin Ice <---trailer (2011): ***/****