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Directed by Ariel Vromen
Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, James Franco, David Schwimmer, Stephen Dorff, Robert Davi
Originally Released: August 30, 2012
Don’t call him a hitman, contract killer, or mass murderer – Richard Kuklinski will forever be known to history as The Iceman; a mob enforcer named as such for freezing his victims to confuse the authorities as to the time of death. Portrayed by Michael Shannon in the Ariel Vromen-directed biopic, The Iceman is a crime drama worth your attention.
Spanning several decades, The Iceman starts in the 1960s, first depicting Kuklinski’s first date with future wife Deborah (Winona Ryder). Coming from a tortured and abusive background, Kuklinski and his brother Joseph (Stephen Dorff) fall into lives of delinquency, and eventually murder. While Joseph is caught and imprisoned, Richard ends up becoming a mob enforcer for Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) as he attempts to also have a normal family life with his wife and daughters.
For several years, Kuklinski completes dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of hits for the DeMeo organization, until his self-made rule of not hurting women or children leaves a living witness. Roy DeMeo decommissions his employment – leaving Richard self- scorning and unfulfilled, now psychologically in the same mindset of a serial killer who is desperate for his murderous ritual.
The story becomes complicated when DeMeo comes at odds with a deputy from the Gambino crime family, Leo Marks (Robert Davi). Kuklinski seeks a killing partnership with another hitman known as Mr. Freezy aka Robert Pronge (Chris Evans), satiating his appetite for murder… however the partnership becomes risky when Leo Marks asks Kuklinski and Pronge to hit a member of DeMeo’s organization – a request that while profitable puts not only the murderers at risk, but perhaps their families too.
Michael Shannon is incredible as The Iceman, showcasing some extreme emotional instants interspersed between the dominant stone-faced cold hearted doesn’t-give-a-fuck-ness. These short emotional moments become so much more powerful in the portrayal because of the dominant stone-faced default of the character. His moments of rage are accented by deep and painful grief, with the tone of his voice becoming monstrous at times.
But the emotionless stillness of his character that plays throughout most of the movie is just as impactful. His demeanor is especially intimidating, but also disturbing in some scenes – but despite his actions and his crimes, there’s an aspect that bounces around the back of your brain feeling some empathy for Richard. Shannon’s performance is (pardon the pun) killer.
Ray Liotta also does not fail to impress – though the crime drama seems to be an art form that he excels at. His performance is also solid in The Iceman, though not as impactful as some of his previous roles. Chris Evans ABSOLUTELY disappears on-screen… his dedication to his craft is showing with each film he does.
When you see Evans appear, you do not think of Captain America, The Human Torch, or whatever that fucking douchebag was he played in Scott Pilgrim. No, instead, you are convinced he is Mr. Freezy through and through; he sinks deeply into the role very convincingly.
The cameos are worth a remark, too. Stephen Dorff is fantastic in his very short appearance in the film, though probably one of his more impressive showings on-screen. James Franco just can’t seem to turn down any fucking work at all, since he shows up in this movie as well – ALSO putting in a stellar and memorable portrayal in a very tough but short role. Likewise, Robert Davi is great – it’s wonderful to see him show up in a good movie after quite a while.
On the negative side of the coin, Winona Ryder is somewhat stiff and dopey in this flick. Her derisive portrayal of Deborah is a singular facet, with rarely a moment in which the audience actually feels for her. Perhaps this could have been due to the script though, as the plot does come across as very testosterone-dominated.
On that note, the writing of The Iceman is sound – it’s impressive in its biopic depiction of Kuklinski is comprehensive and focused, without swerving as some of these historical dramas do – zoning in specifically on his relations with DeMeo and the Gambino crime family.
On the other hand, there are a lot of stereotypical motifs that come up in the movie, which seems to have the looming shadow of the likes of Goodfellas and likewise looming over it. Because of this, the end of the movie feels a little rushed, and probably would have benefited with a little more fleshing out and a bit more screen time.
While The Iceman stays relatively close to the true story, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies. Characters are renamed (Kuklinski’s wife is actually named Barbara in the real world), and certain situations are avoided altogether.
The REAL Iceman: Richard Kuklinski
By the 1980s, Richard Kuklinski was in charge of his own criminal organization, involved in all kinds of illicit trafficking, and taking on major hits on an INTERNATIONAL scale. This fact is NEVER explored or looked into during the movie, making Shannon’s Kuklinski look more like a goon for the mob than anything else.
Curiously, there’s some great symbolism used throughout the movie. The light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel is used to great advantage in the beginning of the film, showcasing that Kuklinski is in the heaven he exactly constantly wanted… finding peace in bloodshed and murder. His dress and facial-hair styles also are a little more than period costuming – the choice of a tie before a hit and the significance of its color; and the styles of moustache or beard he has also serve as a manifestation for his inner turmoil.
In some ways, it’s funny that The Iceman seems to be a bit of a "Superhero Team Up In A Non Superhero Movie" thing. Michael Shannon from Man of Steel, with Chris Evans from The Avengers, with Stephen Dorff from Blade, with James Franco from Spider-Man… joins all together in a crime flick. From one perspective, it allows younger fans of the comic book superhero film to be encouraged to see some of the other work of these fine actors.
The Iceman is worth your time for a glance. The performances are, mostly, good – and the overall story is entertaining and keeps your attention. Michael Shannon and Chris Evans are electric in the movie, and though their efforts may not make up for some of the shortfalls, it is still a film worth having a look at.
Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5