Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe, that wacky duo from 2002’s Auto Focus (Michael Gerbosi, where’d you disappear to, my friend?) are back, each with their own indie movies now on DVD and Blu-ray. Both of these Academy Award nominated actors continue to work the mainstream for paychecks while choosing character driven, lower budgeted ilms to fuel their creative sides. The results aren’t always home runs, but the choices are interesting and worth a look.

Kinnear stars in Thin Ice, a comedy noir film that some will compare to Fargo, if the Coen Brothers classic movie was told strictly through the point of view of the bungling criminal William H. Macy portrayed.  Kinnear is Mickey Prohaska, an insurance agent who survives more on his charming disposition and one or two big sales rather than professionalism. Mickey narrates the film, so we presume that he isn’t going to get wacked by the end of the movie, although blood and guts play a minor role in the movie. Thin Ice is more about deception and scamming people out of money rather than murder. Mickey stumbles upon Gorvy (Alan Arkin), an old man suffering from dementia, who possesses a rare violin worth thousands of dollars. The old man, of course, doesn’t realize the jewel in his possession and Mickey decides to stop at nothing to steal it and off eith the money the instrument will bring him.

Like most inept crooks in over their head, Kinnear gets involved with petty criminal, Randy, played by Billy Crudup, still one of the most underrated actors of our generation. Mickey and Randy work at getting the violin and that’s when things get out of hand. I’m not going to go into what exactly happens because that would ruin the film.

Screenwriters Jill and Karen Sprecher have crafted a nicely written script that allows for some fine moments for the actors (which include Lea Thompson and Bob Balaban). Director Jill Sprecher does an excellent job of setting the mood and placing you in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. Overall, everything about this light film noir should be appealing to moviegoers and fans of the genre. Personally, I thought the film played its cards a little too early on and I figured out what was going on before the end of the first act. I stuck around to make sure I was right, but this took away from the movie as it became more obvious that I was right as the film drew to its conclusion. Look, I’m not the quickest wit out there (someone please explain Inception to me) so if I was able to figure this one out so fast, I know there are many of you will, too. Still, Thin Ice is a fun hour and a half and getting to watch Kinnear sweat out his misdeeds is enjoyable.

Dafoe has better success with his latest, the introspective thriller, The Hunter. Dafoe plays Martin David, a mercenary hired to track down and collect organ and tissue samples of the legendary Tasmanian Tiger, a carnivorous marsupial that lives in the Tasmanian wild and by all accounts is extinct. A reported sighting of the creature just beyond the border of a limber community has stirred the interest secretive biotech firm that hopes to mine the creature for medical purposes. Martin is sent into a hostile setting where environmentalists are at war with the local timber community. He arrives under the guise of being a research scientist looking for clues about the tiger and takes up residence with a family of three, a mother and her two young children. The father is out of the picture having gone missing months earlier. Lucy (Frances O’Connor), the mom, is a wreck (in a deep depression and on heavy meds), leaving young daughter, Sass (Morgana Davies) to take care of her little brother, Bike (Finn Woodlock).

Martin is a loner, as men in his line of work are wont to be, so when the children latch on to him as if he’s long lost uncle, he’s uncomfortable. The guy’s there to do a job. However, the longer he’s around these precocious kids, he starts caring for them. Everyone in town is suspicious of the hunter. The environmentalists think he’s some kind of trapper using nasty metal traps to catch game (he is, but he lies and says he doesn’t), the foresters think is another eco-radical since he’s taken up residence with the wife of the dead leader of their cause. Dafoe walks the thin line of deception and keeps all of his enemies at arms length. His true enemy may not even be the locals; it may be the corporation that hired him. Defoe is unsure who to trust, so he turns inward and to the only people who aren’t suspicious of him: Lucy and the children.

Dafoe is remarkable in this role. It may be his most soulful performance since The Last Temptation on Christ. So much of the movie is just the man alone in the wilderness, a filmmaking risk that could have dragged the entire movie down into boredom. However, Dafoe is so expressive and invites you into his character’s thinking process and rituals. He is fascinating to watch. Likewise, his scenes with the family have real warmth. Perhaps because I’m so used to seeing Dafoe play oddballs, it was special seeing him essentially play a family man in many of his scenes.

The rest of the cast is strong. Sam Neill gives his character, Jack, a man whose motives are questionable, depth and confliction with just a couple looks and turns of the head. O’Connor is strong as the grieving mother who opens her heart to hope with the arrival of Martin. Finally, the two children actors are excellent, in particular, young Miss Davies. She’s superb.

As directed by Daniel Nettheim (whose career has been primarily in television), The Hunter really takes you to the edge of civilization and shows how desperate men and women can become. It also fills you with an odd sense of hope by movie’s end. Martin is a man who has trained himself to never become attached. In the film’s final moments we see that he’s opened himself to humanity and love. Is he a better man? I’d like to say yes. The Hunter is thoughtful, exciting and will keep your attention from the minute the films begins. Check it out.

Thin Ice trailer

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The Hunter trailer

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Auto Focus

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About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Follow him @MrMalchus

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