Sunday 1 March 2009

Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009)

Director: Robert Harmon
Star: Tom Selleck

I was pleasantly surprised when I first saw Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone, police chief in the town of Paradise. He plays the part very well and very memorably, but in a way utterly different to how he played Magnum, PI. Thin Ice is the fifth Jesse Stone TV movie that CBS have made thus far, and fortunately there's been a notable consistency as the series has progressed. Selleck has played the role all the way through from Stone Cold, the first film in 2005, and he isn't the only recurring actor. Robert Harmon has also directed all of them. Perhaps the most telling comment about the films is that Robert B Parker, the writer of the original Jesse Stone novels, believes that Selleck nailed the part.

This one begins with Stone getting shot. He's sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car, next to his friend, the State Homicide Commander, who is doing something akin to a stakeout without somehow becoming a stakeout. Stone is merely winged, while Capt Healy is hospitalised with serious injuries. The powers that be in Paradise aren't really concerned about his being shot, but want to know why he's moonlighting in Boston. They certainly have it in for him, asking probing questions about how many tickets he's writing and why he doesn't want to hire the town council leader's son-in-law.

While he's dealing with the council's threats and trying to work out why his friend was shot, against his friend's wishes, he gets involved with all sorts of soap opera stuff. All this is brought to screen in the slow and careful way in which these stories unfold: his ongoing battle with alcohol, his troubles with his ex-wife and his new highly inadvised new relationship with the internal affairs investigator, wonderfully named Sidney Greenstreet, looking into how and why he discharged his weapon on the stakeout that wasn't.

He also acquires a new case with very slim prospects: a five year old out-of-state kidnapping of a baby from a hospital. Someone in Paradise sent a letter to Elizabeth Blue to tell her that her son, inevitably named Little Boy Blue, is loved. Of course the town council wouldn't want him to invest time, money and effort into such a longshot, so he has to be very careful about his methods. In fact he has to be very careful about almost everything in this film, which works for me because that's what I love most about this series: how nothing is the stereotypical Hollywood/CSI: Miami style glitz.

Maybe it appeals to me as a writer: it's easy to solve things with explosions and car chases and wild arguments, but it takes a lot more talent to write calm, sparse and thoughtful dialogue. It takes a lot more talent to speak it too. Now this isn't high art but any means it's probably about as close as you're going to get on a TV movie built around commercial breaks. It's very capable television on a network channel that's lasted with consistency for five years with good reason, because it's written well, acted well and built up over time to be a viable series not just a collection of viable films. The question that remains has to do with how memorable it all is.


Anonymous said...

There is much to like about Thin Ice, but Parker's noninvolvement is obvious. Any writer worth his/er salt could have patched up some of the many plot holes, large and small, such as:
1. No DNA testing of the body initially believed to be the missing child;
2. No one on the Paradise police force seemed to know about a child falling through ice (on vacation) and drowning two years earlier;
3. No nonservice dogs are allowed on public buses;
4. No smoking allowed at meetings in public offices;
5. What does the Boston Police Dept. Internal Affairs have to with the investigation?

There's more but in a film with fine actors and excellent production values, a little attention to detail wouldn't have hurt anything.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

I couldn't agree more, though I can't speak to Parker's talent as I haven't read his work. I think my brain disconnected from the fact that this was a mystery film because there was so little mystery in it. There was no real setup, no subtle dispersion of clues for us to fathom out before the hero, no real progression.

The dog on the greyhound stood out for me, but so did the whole internal affairs subplot. Sidney Greenstreet fell into bed with Jesse Stone quicker than any random delectable young lady in a Mike Hammer story. I got the impression that she was supposed to be a good agent but she breaks every rule in the book for someone she's only just met. And yeah, why was she even involved?

What this film became for me was a change of pace. I relished the slow calmness of it. The characters became a comfortable background that I'll remember fondly when I watch various primetime shows this week.