Beginning not far from “Fargo,” the wintry, Wisconsin-set noir farce “The Convincer” stakes out its own twisty territory after a mild flurry of ice-cold yuks involving a pathetically conniving salesman (Greg Kinnear), a load of cash and a lot of blood. But this third feature from the Sprecher sisters — director Jill and her co-screenwriter Karen (“Clockwatchers”) — is distinguished throughout by the sharp contributions of a high-caliber cast and crew, including ace d.p. Dick Pope and exec-producing actor Alan Arkin. Alas, in the absence of bigger stars, “The Convincer” will need critical persuasion to hook fans of black-comic crime capers.Narrating in voiceover, amoral Kenosha insurance peddler Mickey Prohaska (a well-cast Kinnear) announces, “We live in a world of bullshit” — some of which is clearly of his own dispensing. Mickey would like to think he can sell ice to Eskimos, but his biz is lukewarm at best, and he can’t close a reconciliation deal with his estranged wife Jo Ann (Lea Thompson). With the help of a geeky new recruit (David Harbour), he does manage to unload a cut-rate policy on retired farmer Gorvy Hauer (Arkin), an intermittently perceptive octogenarian whose accent is Kenoshan by way of Queens. Gorvy mainly needs insurance so he can call the agent to come over and fix his TV — usually by plugging it in. Snoozing on his La-Z-Boy one afternoon while Mickey is fiddling with the dial, the old man gets a visit from an antique violin appraiser (Bob Balaban) who mistakes the salesman for the homeowner and offers $25,000 for the rare Stainer that’s been sitting in the living room. Naturally the money-hungry Mickey jumps at the chance to grab the cash, but there are complications, including an ex-con locksmith (Billy Crudup), Gorvy’s temperamental dog and, eventually, a dead body. As Kinnear’s unhinged convincer discovers that his peace of mind will cost more than a policy, the Sprechers continue to cleverly spin a yarn that seems familiar — until it isn’t. The filmmakers’ gambit here, and it’s a risky one, is in waiting roughly 90 minutes to show off their true tricks, which fully re-string the narrative fiddle. In the meantime, there are pitch-perfect comic notes from the whole ensemble, and a suitably quirky score from Alex Wurman that borrows banjo-strums from Bela Fleck. Stephen Mirrione’s editing hits all the right beats, and Pope’s brilliantly composed widescreen images of the Wisconsin tundra are as bright as any noir’s could be. Other production values of the Sprechers’ indie are indistinguishable from a studio pic’s.
A Werc Werk Works production, in association with Spare Room Prods. Produced by Mary Frances Budig, Elizabeth Redleaf, Christine Kunewa Walker. Executive producer, Alan Arkin. Co-producers, Andrew Peterson, Mark Steele. Directed by Jill Sprecher. Screenplay, Jill Sprecher, Karen Sprecher.
Camera (color, widescreen), Dick Pope; editor, Stephen Mirrione; music, Alex Wurman, Bela Fleck; music supervisor, Doug Bernheim; production designer, Jeff Schoen; art director, Kelly Rae Hemenway; set decorator, Jill Broadfoot; costume designer, Tara Duncan; sound (Dolby Digital), John L. Sims Jr.; supervising sound editor, Cheryl Nardi; re-recording mixer, Lora Hirschberg; visual effects supervisor, Thomas J. Smith; visual effects, CIS Hollywood; special effects coordinator, Gary C. Surber; stunt coordinator, Peter Moore; line producer, Julie Hartley; assistant director, Curtis Smith; casting, Jeanne McCarthy, Lynn Blumenthal. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 25, 2011. Running time: 109 MIN.
Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, David Harbour, Lea Thompson, Bob Balaban, Michelle Arthur.