The Coen Bros. film Fargo is a favorite of mine. I think it is a wonderful, dark comedy that works thanks to its fantastic script and great performances from all involved. It is quirky, despite going to dark places; sweet in regards to its hero, Marge Gunderson, despite detailing the exploits of some other really nasty characters; and it’s a great looking film, despite being set in a snow-filled winter in Minnesota. Thin Ice feels very much like a film that wishes it could be more like Fargo, but it never really works out that way. It features quirky characters, down on their luck, that turn to crime in order to get ahead, but only find themselves in deeper and deeper trouble. It boils down to being a con-man film that really does not go anywhere exciting, regardless of whichever version one watches on this good looking Blu-ray disc.
The story revolves around insurance salesman Mickey (Greg Kinnear), who has gotten into a number of financial issues. His wife has thrown him out of the house and he is only doing just enough to keep his business afloat. However, Mickey learns that an elderly client named Gorvy (Alan Arkin) has an extremely valuable violin in his possession and is not aware of its $25,000 worth. Desperate for money, Mickey builds a friendship with Gorvy based on the possibility of stealing the violin for money. Things become much more complicated when Mickey unwillingly involves an ex-con/locksmith, Randy (Billy Crudup), who really turns the plot down a dark alley.
There are two versions of this film available on the Blu-ray, a theatrical cut and a director’s cut, but unfortunately neither quite works. The director’s cut is technically better, as it is not choppily edited and leaves in various character beats that help the film out overall, but the problem is that I was never able to really engage in the story overall. This is unfortunate, because I like the setup, in concept, the setting, again, evokes something like Fargo, and there is a pretty strong cast present in the film.
I like Greg Kinnear in roles like this. Here he is allowed to play both the likable protagonist of the story, while still fitting in some of his smarmier qualities. He can play affable and despicable within the same part and that is what he gets to do here. It makes him more than just the straight-man caught up in danger, which is fitting of the noir-ish basis for this film. Also effective is Billy Crudup, who essentially makes his character aggravating, by serving as an obstacle for our hero, but also the highlight of the film, as I consistently liked everything about his performance. Crudup brings a comedic intensity that brings a boost to the film, whenever he is on screen. Alan Arkin is good enough, which is expected, but being the lovable old man did not quite lift my feelings on the film overall.
The main issue I had is with the energy of Thin Ice as a whole. The humor is mostly dry and it is purposefully structured to have the comedy arrive at a fairly sparse pace, with effort made to keep these characters grounded, despite characters like Randy throwing in some broader qualities. But with that said, I did not appreciate the drama of the situation enough to keep myself hooked into where the story was going. The movie starts up charming enough and then enters into darker territory, but the quirky circumstances involved did little for me. A bigger shame is how this movie plays out in its conclusion, which leads to some reveals that seem to go too far in explaining everything and feels overly familiar.
So overall, I was disappointed in Thin Ice based on the things that make up this film and personal recommendations versus how I ended up reacting to the film. The performances are good and the concept is sound, but the execution was overall too low-key for me to find myself consistently engaged by. I am happy to see neo-noirs still making their presence known in theaters, but Thin Ice did not provide much of a memorable experience for me.
Thin Ice does have something going for it in terms of its Blu-ray presentation. As usual, I am constantly a sucker for the way snow looks on Blu and the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer does proper justice to showing off the environment that Thin Ice constantly features in shots. Basically, the film looks cold. The color palette is pretty mellow, with lots of blues and grays making up the visual aesthetic of the film, while various textures and some environments register well enough, but are never as seemingly significant as something fitting of a more, big budgeted film. It looks good overall, not stellar, but above average for sure.
The Film, in both forms, features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which does a good job of presenting this mostly dialogue-heavy feature. Nothing ever feels overwhelming and the various background noises associated with a film that has winter as its setting feels appropriate. A key thing that distinguishes the cuts of the film is the score. One is done by Jeff Danna, which feels like a stock score that does not really benefit the tone of the film. The original score by Alex Wurman feels much more appropriate, lining up with the noir motif the film attempts to have. Both sound fine and the mixing on the audio track for both is well done in regards to the overall Blu-ray presentation.
There is a smattering of extras available on the Blu-ray for Thin Ice, with the key aspect being the two different cuts of the film. As I have already described, the theatrical is chopped down, edited somewhat poorly, and features a score that feels like it wants you to obviously giggle at the comedic bits. The director’s cut feels stronger, despite my misgivings about the film, but at least seems coherent overall. The other features are somewhat expected, but at least provide a little more insight about the film and are presented in HD.
Theatrical Version and Director’s Cut
Behind the Scenes of Thin Ice – A fairly long look at the film, given that it is a low-budget feature. Nothing about the director’s vision vs. the theatrical cut is mentioned, by the way.
Sundance Premiere Featurette
I was hoping for more, but Thin Ice did not deliver. The Blu-ray is solid enough, with pretty good video and audio presentations. The amount of special features is small, but somewhat effective in expanding on the film (though a commentary could have been great, given how the studio took away this film and cut it up). I just wish I could have liked the movie more, given the things it had going for it. Entertaining in spots and maybe worth a look, were one to want a Fargo-like dark comedy that is new to them.