After a successful screening at Sundance in 2011, the dark comedy The Convincer secured distribution with ATO Pictures and appeared set for a theatrical release. But the situation was soon to become very complicated for the film. Apparently the distributor was unsatisfied with the film and went about making significant changes without the cooperation of director Jill Sprecher (who co-wrote the screenplay with her sister Karen).
What emerged in theaters for a very limited release in February, 2012 was Thin Ice, a re-edited version of The Convincer that had 20 minutes axed from it. Not only was material liberally cut, with the structure of the film changed in the process, a new score by Jeff Danna was brought in to replace the original music by Alex Wurman. Thin Ice was poorly received by critics and its box office take amounted to less than a million dollars (to be fair, it only opened on a few dozen screens).
Now viewers can make their own choice, as the Blu-ray of Thin Ice contains both versions. The director’s cut is intact, right down to the title The Convincer. The distributor clearly dropped the ball with all the changes, as the original cut is easily superior. Not that we’re talking about something on the magnitude of Orson Welles losing final cut on The Magnificent Ambersons. No one is likely to claim Thin Ice, in any form, is a masterful piece of filmmaking. But still, it’s very interesting to see just how much stronger Sprecher and original editor Stephen Mirrione’s instincts were. My observations are based on the director’s cut, though I did screen the theatrical version as well.
Thin Ice is an entertaining movie about Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear), a bottom-feeder insurance salesman who tries to take an advantage of an old man, Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin). Gorvy happens to own an antique violin. The instrument is very valuable, initially appraised in the neighborhood of $25,000, but Gorvy has no conception of its worth. He even allows his dog to drag it around the house. Unfortunately for Mickey, a hot-tempered security system installer gets in the way of his scheme to steal the violin. No stranger to theft himself, Randy (Billy Crudup) the security guy makes a few very poor (and violent) choices that complicate Mickey’s life in ways he could have never anticipated.
It’s impossible to divulge further details of the plot without revealing twists that are much better left to the viewer to discover. Although it relies a little too heavily on convenient coincidence, Jill and Karen Sprecher crafted a very clever story that is much better served by the original cut. The extra 20 minutes, rather than weighing things down, actually help the pacing and make the characters as well as the plot more believable. The trimming, reordering, and in some cases elimination of key moments leaves Thin Ice nearly incomprehensible, whereas The Convincer has a crystal clear narrative. Kinnear, a master of desperation and false sincerity, turns in a reliably sturdy performance. Crudup has some fun with the emotionally unstable Randy. It’s Arkin who steals the show, instilling the slightly senile Gorvy with a poignancy that has a wicked payoff. Among the primary cast, only Lea Thompson, as Mickey’s estranged wife Jo Ann, is left with little to do in her underwritten role.
Thin Ice looks fine on Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer framed at 2.35:1. Filmed on 35mm, the transfer has a natural film-look with just a hint of grain visible. Fine detail, while not overly impressive, is more than sufficient. The icy, wintery Wisconsin setting results in a lot of dull whites, but even during ice fishing scenes the textures of the snow and ice are realistically captured. Audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that is appropriately subtle. Dialogue is occasionally mixed a little low during noisier scenes, but for the most part it is strong and clear. Surround and LFE activity is light, but that’s never a deficit. Overall, for a modestly-budgeted, dialogue-driven comedy-drama, the presentation is on point.
“Behind the Scenes of Thin Ice” offers just what it sounds like, with the usual mixture of film clips, interviews, and on-location footage. It’s basically promotional in nature, but this 25 minute piece is better than average as the filmmakers offer some interesting thoughts. Though brief, the “Sundance Premiere” featurette is worth checking out. It’s kind of melancholy to watch director Jill Sprecher bask in the warm audience reception knowing that the eventual release of the film would prove to be so troubling (the director wanted her name removed from the movie, but was contractually prohibited from doing so). Nine minutes of not very interesting deleted scenes are available as well.
The primary bonus feature is the ability to view The Convincer, before it was spliced and diced into Thin Ice. So many “director’s cuts” add very little to the viewing experience, often restoring a few minutes of relatively insignificant material. Not so in this case, where we are given the opportunity to see two very different versions of the same film. The twists and turns left me wanting to rewatch the film in order to see how all the pieces fit together. Many of the characters and their situations take on a very different feel once you know how it all ends up. But watching the theatrical version left me appreciating the filmmakers’ original vision even more. The differences between the two cuts range from obvious (the different score) to incredibly subtle (different takes of the same dialogue were substituted in some scenes). Though it is officially known on Blu-ray and DVD as Thin Ice, the movie you really want to see is called The Convincer. At least 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment had the good sense to offer it both ways.