Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) managed to keep his profession a secret from those under his roof—when his wife, Deborah (Winona Ryder), asks him on their first date what he does for a living, says he dubs cartoons for Disney. After a few years of hustling porn, Kuklinski is given a chance for promotion by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), who is impressed by how calm he is with a loaded gun pointed at his face.
Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman isn’t a dissection of organized crime. Instead, it’s a focused work that traces one man’s rise and inevitable fall. While this structure is certainly nothing fresh, The Iceman is still a compelling work. Much of this is because of how Kuklinski is written as a character. He’s not just a man with a mean streak and access to a pistol. He’s a man devoted to his job, who has principles, who loves his wife and daughters more than anything.
And although Shannon doesn’t have the stature of Kuklinski (who weighed 300 pounds), there may have been no one better for the role, as Shannon is an intimidating presence who can make his character complex and find that balance that Kuklinski himself had to without ever having met the man. (Other notable names that fare well in their turns include Chris Evans as Kuklinski’s partner, David Schwimmer as a ponytailed stooge, James Franco as a God-loving victim, Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s brother, and John Ventimiglia, better known as Artie Bucco on The Sopranos.)
Those that like The Iceman should also seek out the 1992 HBO documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer, which features in-depth interviews with Kuklinski.
Behind the Scenes (8:12): In addition to interviews, this piece includes footage from the set of The Iceman.