Thin Ice

I know it may not be a popular opinion, but I have to admit that I really like Alfred Hitchcock. I think the guy was one of the greatest directors that has ever lived, and I’ve seen an awful lot of his films. If a film markets itself with a quote like “A crime tale with twists worthy of Hitchcock”, then it’s going to have to be pretty gosh-darned spectacular just to stay out of blasphemy territory. Thin Ice is not pretty gosh-darned spectacular.

The film opens with Greg Kinnear as Mickey Prohaska as an insurance salesman with a small office in Kenosha, Wisconsin, not too far north of Chicago. He does well enough for himself professionally, mainly because he’s a complete sleazeball with no morals, but his personal life is a mess, mainly because he’s a complete sleazeball with no morals. When he learns that the parent company is going to be sending its best sales people to a conference in Aruba, he deftly poaches a promising new hire (Bob, played by David Harbour) away from one of his main competitors, only to find that Bob is an honest-to-goodness nice guy who cares about people and wants to help them instead of taking them for as much as possible. On his first outing with Mickey, Bob steered a potentially-lucrative truck driver to another agency, but then zeroed in on Gorvy (a mostly senile old man played by Alan Arkin) for a bare-bones, bottom-dollar policy.

Mickey deftly slides Bob out of the picture and manages to talk Gorvy up to a more full-featured, and full-priced, policy. As they’re finalizing the details, Mickey happens to learn that Gorvy has an old violin that he’d asked to have appraised. Mickey intercepts the results of that appraisal and learns that the violin is worth a fortune, and begins scheming about how he might acquire that violin for himself to sell at a huge profit. But as events unfold, things just keep going wrong and Mickey finds himself in ever-hotter water.

Despite the film’s praise for itself on its poster, the film doesn’t really have that many twists. Most of the time, it’s just heaping more problems onto Mickey as a direct result of his own actions. Some of these problems are things that neither Mickey nor the audience would have been able to see coming, but that still doesn’t make them twists. The only real twist comes at the end, and it’s one that is easier to spot ahead of time, and also one that the film spends way too much time explaining after the fact. It would have been far better for the film to have simply ended as soon as that twist was revealed, but it spends a good five minutes showing all of the effects that twist has on the rest of the story, and then another couple of minutes showing Mickey in its aftermath.

Until the disappointing and overly-long ending, the film is actually quite enjoyable. It’s funny and very well acted, and even when it does descend into the realm of the ridiculous, you’re having so much fun that the problems are easy to forgive. But I think that its impressive cast (which also includes Billy Crudup, Bob Balaban, and Lea Thompson) is actually its downfall, because their roles (or at least those of Crudup and Balaban) make it too easy to suspect what might be going on. It’s the kind of thing that might be suspicious on its own, but when the film just comes out and tells you that there’s going to be a twist ending, it’s almost never the case that the surprise manages to stay hidden until the big reveal.

But despite the surprise not being as surprising as the filmmakers wanted it to be, I still think that the movie could have been salvaged if it had known when to end. But the more the film stretched out its downward spiral, the harder it became to remember as a good movie.