Based on a true story, Ariel Vromen (yes, that Ariel Vromen) presents his vision of the life (and death?) of Richard Kuklinski, an infamous assassin whose cold interior was matched only by the love he had for his family – three women from whom he tried to keep his murderous side secret.
Who’s in It?
Michael Shannon is brilliant as the titular Polish hitman, while Chris Evans later makes an appearance as an equally deranged psychotic named Mr. Freezy (for reasons that will become very apparent). Winona Ryder plays Shannon’s innocent wife, while Ray Liotta, wait for it, is a man involved with the mob. By the way, is that David Schwimmer and James Franco!?
It shouldn’t be at all surprising that a film titled The Iceman is dark and cold, but what isn’t necessarily a given is that it is done well. Vromen creates an uncertain and eerie atmosphere for the audience to explore, but it’s Shannon who keeps you rapt and scared as this crime drama progresses.
He inhabits the notorious killer, a man who initially seems to attract unwanted attention simply by his bad attitude and piercing stare. It really does seem he either can attack you at any moment, or is just thinking about doing so but then quickly realizes it’s not worth it. A moment as such is part of our first startling introduction to the man.
The reason Shannon triumphs, and ultimately carries the movie that at times feels too cold and lifeless, is that he shows another side that is more or less a polar opposite (let’s see how long we can keep this ‘ice’ theme going). What makes Kuklinski a compelling character is (was) his love for his family – a wife and two daughters – to whom he lied to protect and provide. You see the warmth in Shannon’s eyes towards his wife, from their first awkward and endearing date, through to struggles with marriage and raising children.
Evans’ character, a more outgoing sociopath, offers an interesting dynamic as well, but for the most part, the film proceeds along hitting all the standard points. Kuklinski reluctantly kills, he becomes talented, he gets cocky, he acts out, he risks everything, and then, well, you know the rest. It’s a journey that takes place over the 1960’s and 70’s in New Jersey (not so much cold as dank), so the pacing is hard to uphold, and the finale is less outrageous than a bit deflating.
Vromen does a fine job directing, but The Iceman sets itself apart from its acting, even if everyone is on a slightly different page. Evans is loud, erratic, Liotta is his typical funny, hysterical self, while Franco and Schwimmer, although making brief appearances, are funny but not only because it’s Franco and Schwimmer. All the while Shannon is captivating, haunting, and imposing screen presence with whom to reckon.
Should You See It?
Eventually, but no need to rush for the big screen.
“I feel alone when I’m around other people.”