Sundance 2011 Review: THE CONVINCER
How much trouble could a little violin cause? We find out just how as the off-beat film THE CONVINCER takes us on a ride through the viewpoint of slightly shady insurance salesman, Mickey (Greg Kinnear), as he attempts to sell a policy to retiree Gorvy (Alan Arkin) and discovers a much bigger payday in the process.
Mickey is struggling within the world of insurance as he watches his colleagues collect awards and accolades, but it is not the prestige Mickey covets – it is money. Mickey is all about selling as long as the end goal is getting to cash out, and cash out big. He would sell insurance to anyone as long as he thought the check would clear, and it is this lack of a moral compass that keeps Mickey from ever becoming a character you want to root for, even when things start to unravel around him.
After going on a house call to potential new client Gorvy, Mickey discovers that some of the clutter taking up space in the house may actually be valuable. A violin in particular turns out to be more than just a beat up and neglected instrument. Never one to walk away from an opportunity, Mickey quickly inserts himself into Gorvy’s life to ensure that he is able swindle the money into his own pocket.
When an opportunity to pull off a bait and switch to replace the actual violin with a worthless copy, Mickey jumps at the chance, but ends up in much deeper water with possible sociopath Randy (Billy Crudup). Not a great salesman and an even worse criminal, Mickey and Randy find themselves thrown together as they attempt to keep from getting caught.
One ridiculous situation after the next, by the end of the we realize that we the audience have actually been conned. I am usually a fan of films with a twist, but this one only worked to completely throw me out of the story I had been following for the past two hours. While I understood the story-within-a-story angle, I felt more misled than impressed when it was finally exposed.
Crudup’s performance as Randy was the film’s highlight and impossible to look away from. Crudup electrified all his scenes with Randy’s manic personality, unpredictable behavior, and actions. You never knew what you were going to get when Randy showed up, but you knew it was going to be worth watching.
THE CONVINCER is all about selling, but the sudden turn towards the end kept me from really buying its premise. The film starts of slick and suddenly changes its tone into a Cohen-esq ride of slightly comedic blunders to cover up previous ones. The payoff in the end is anything but and feels more like a cheat. A hint or set up of this impending shift would have helped make this reveal more of an “ah ha” moment rather than a “what the…” moment.