' ' Cinema Romantico: Thin Ice

Monday, March 05, 2012

Thin Ice

Do you remember "The Ice Harvest?" Harold Ramis's comedic thriller from 2005 involving John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in a twisting and turning dash for $2 million set amidst a vicious ice storm? Do you remember how at the end images of scenes from earlier in which the audience does not know precisely what happened are shown to fill in every possible blank, to ensure no one is confused and everything is settled in the viewer's mind before he or she exits the theater? This kind of lack of faith in the viewer's intelligence is insulting and, even worse, makes for boring cinema. It's not unlike the very end of Hitchcock's Psycho, an end which everyone seems to hate only to go ahead and copy anyway.

Do you remember "Fargo"? That's the one that earned Frances McDormand an Oscar for playing a pregnant Minnesota police chief who is tasked to solve a pitifully assembled crime by the clueless and desperate Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy). The film is likely remembered for its accents, its droll Midwestern humor and the wood chipper. But what makes the movie so fantastic and long-lasting, I suspect, is the way The Coen Brothers boldly decide to make their screenplay not hinge on some sort of Reveal (!!!), redefining all that we have seen, and rather settling on a conclusion that is born of character and situations into which those characters have put themselves. The end is bleak before the closing shot that defiantly throws a nice warm blanket over that bleakness.

"Thin Ice", the new film from the Sisters Sprecher (Jill and Karen), is a little bit "Ice Harvest", a little bit "Fargo", not as good as the former (which wasn't even all that good, really), not even in the same league as the latter. Such is life. Greg Kinnear is Mickey Prohaska, an absolutely unctuous insurance agent, who, in a fit of jealously at a work convention, hires Bob (David Harbour) away from his chief rival. Bob, as nice as pie, leads Mickey to an old fart living out on the edge of nowhere (Alan Arkin) who in his dementia has determined he needs some property insurance. Turns out too that he is in possession of a rare German violin that a Chicago dealer (Bob Balaban) states is worth $25,000. Hmmmmmm. See, Mickey is recently separated from his wife (Lea Thompson), his business is stalling and he needs a cash influx. And so, quietly, he goes about scheming a way to get at this violin for his own gain. Enter: The Security System Installer (Billy Crudup), who in no time has wormed his way right into Mickey's existence, for worse and for much worse, and begins trying to con the man who is trying to con the other man.

For most of its run time, the film's vibe - aside from Crudup - is very low key, evocative of the film's wintry Wisconsin landscape, where glasses fog up (nice touch), people blow on their hands for warmth even when their hands are gloved and lakes are thick with ice. The actors are all perfectly cast, from Harbour being so nice - to quote Ron Swanson - "to the point that it's annoying" to Arkin's forgetfulness to Crudup's unstable methhead to Mickey's dutiful, unappreciated secretary (Michelle Arthur) who watches her boss's meltdown with a knowing eye to Balaban who just looks like a violin dealer to, of course, Kinnear himself who in movies just generally has this dismissively arrogant way about him that is used to mostly fine effect here.

The joy in these sorts of films is watching the protagonist's scheme unravel, the walls close in, and the realization dawn on him that he has no way out. Instead, all of a sudden, as if M. Night Shymalan up and moved his latest production from Pennsylvania to Cheese Country, the film reverses with a terrible screech and a monstrosity of a seemingly endless montage complete with voiceover over-explains and re-defines everything we have seen in the most schlocky way imaginable. Even worse, it lets this dude, this Mickey Prohaska, off the hook when he has done nothing to deserve it. If this is satire, fine, but the tone of the entire film has never even hinted at that possibility.

However, here is a rare movie whose most jaw-dropping twist isn't part of the movie itself! After purchasing the film at Sundance 2011, ATO Pictures and production company Werc Werk Works ordered the Sprechers to completely change the film. The Sprechers refused. Thus, ATO and Werc Werk Works brought on a new editor and a new composer and made vast revisions to the already finished film. The Sprechers actually attempted to remove their names from the film but the contract they had already signed prevented it. How much do you wanna bet those slumming ATO/WWW shitheads added the horrendous shit at the end of this film that totally undermines it?

People often say there is too much finger-pointing at studio interference. Sometimes they're right. But sometimes they're not. If only the Sprechers could have pulled a fast one of their own on those editing room robbers and released their film to the world.


Anonymous said...

First, I love how this post gets placed in "Bad Reviews." Second, I appreciate the irony in what happened with the film after it was shot, the confusion and craziness you described happening regarding the change of editor and composer and the title of the film: Thin Ice.

I haven't actually heard of the film before reading your review, and after reading it, I can't imagine watching it. Enjoyable post to read - thanks, Nick.

Nick Prigge said...

I only saw it because of Billy Crudup - who's my favorite actor and, thus, I see everything he does - and so I actually had no idea about the post-production fiasco until I read about it afterwards. But it certainly made sense why the ending fell off so terribly.

Studios stifling creativity. Man, that riles me up (as you could clearly see).

Andrew K. said...

Haven't seen the film, but that studio interference thing is a shame. In theory, I get how difficult it must be for studio heads with people trying to be "artistic" and them trying to be "business" oriented. But, what's so weird about the cases of studio hiccups you hear is that they're always seem intent on shoehorning whatever they get into a proven mould when conversely, they all want "originality". Paradoxes abound, I suppose.

Nick Prigge said...

What makes this case so strange is that they bought the film at Sundance - where it was called "The Convincer" - where it was getting raves. And then for whatever reason, despite the raves, they decided to go in and change it. I just don't get why you'd do that if you already apparently loved it.

That paradox you mention, though...too true. Happens all the time. It's a weird business we all love so much.

Colin said...

Not seen nor heard of it, but I'll stick my oar in and say that I have an irrational love of films with snow. I've no idea why.
Nobody's Fool, Beautiful Girls, Fargo, A Simple Plan, Out of Sight...maybe I need to relocate.

Colin @ picknmix

Nick Prigge said...

Snow is so wonderful. I lived in Arizona briefly and despite its briefness I still missed snow oh so much.