Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Talk Cinema: Thin Ice (aka The Convincer)

The Talk Cinema series has been going on for a while - a few years at the Coolidge, and I think it was at one of the mainstream multiplexes before that (Fenway, maybe, back when it was a GCC theater). As tempting as some of the things that play there sounded after the fact, I just started going with this series, as its Sunday morning schedule tended to conflict with the much closer (and cheaper!) Eye-Opener at the Brattle. With that having become the Monday evening Cinecaché series, I decided to give this a try.

So far, I can't say I necessarily love the choice of movies; Thin Ice is just not very good. The conversation afterward may also be something to get used to; will I get to know these folks and where they're coming from for seeing them once a month as opposed to every week for a couple months in a row?

Still, this installment at least had the benefit of a moderator who had seen The Convincer at Sundance in January and could describe the differences. Apparently the soundtrack was a big one, with the new score making the big turn the film takes midway through less jarring. It led to a somewhat interesting discussion on whether the director should always be the person in complete control over a movie, with the implication being that The Convincers was flawed enough that some work should have been done.

(Amusing - the moderator brought up Donnie Darko as perhaps the best recent example of how maybe the director isn't always the best judge of when a movie's done, and explained the reference. I'm not used to people not just knowing it.)

Thin Ice

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema)

Thin Ice started life as The Convincer (and played Sundance under that name) before being re-cut and re-scored to its current form, and that name would have put a bit of a target on its back. The movie requires we be believe that a character is charismatic and persuasive, and that's just not there. Calling the movie "Thin Ice" doesn't make it better, but it manages expectations a little.

Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) sells insurance out of a small office in Kenosha, and he's apparently good enough at preying on strangers' fears to lecture on the topic at the regional convention. While there, he poaches a young up-and-comer from a rival, although nice-guy Bob (David Harbour) has a tendency to talk people out of overinsuring themselves. That's how it's going with Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), an eccentric and half-senile farmer, at least until violin expert Leonard Dahl (Bob Balaban) shows up to examine the apparently rare instrument in Gorvy's attic, but only talks to Mickey. Circumstances lead to Mickey believing he can keep the money from the sale of the guitar for himself, but a series of miscommunications lead to Mickey and locksmith Randy Kinney (Billy Crudup) being involved in something a bit nastier than fraud.

Mickey's not a good person; even considering that he's in a business that thrives on misrepresentation, he lies reflexively and is utterly unconcerned about other people. And while it's not necessarily important that the main character be likable, it would help a great deal if he were interesting. Whether because of sisters Jill & Karen Sprecher's script (Jill also directs) or Greg Kinnear's performance, though, that never really happens. His scenes with Lea Thompson as Mickey's soon-to-be-ex-wife don't do anything to add nuance to the character, nor do any others; there's no hint of a tragic flaw that put him in his financial hole. He's just a generically selfish guy, and Kinnear plays him that way, desperation covered with practiced pitches. There's no moment where we see him really good at this sort of thing, and he's such a blank that it's tough to either hate him enough to root against him or develop a sneaky admiration for his cunning or ruthlessness.

Full review at EFC.

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