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Review: The Iceman (TIFF 2012)

Sep. 13, 2012by: Chris Bumbray


PLOT: The true story of hit-man Richard Kuklinshi (Michael Shannon)- who allegedly killed over 100 people at the mob's behest, while simultaneously existing as a devoted family man with a loving wife (Winona Ryder) and two adoring daughters.

REVIEW: THE ICEMAN is a film I've been hot to see for a long time. Anyone who's seen the Kuklinsky documentary from a few years back can attest to what a chilling sociopath the guy was, and casting of Michael Shannon, one of the best actors of his generation, in the part seemed ideal. It ended up taking years for the film to get rolling, with the cast list changing here and there, although a short demo released on youtube featuring Shannon in character gave me hope that it would eventually get made.


And so it did, and the result is a strong gangster melodrama anchored by an absolutely startling performance by Shannon. Certainly, Ariel Vromen's movie, which runs a contained ninety minutes and keeps the focus sharply on Kuklinski, won't be mistaken for one of the all-time gangster epics, but it's certainly a superior piece of genre entertainment.

The action starts up fast, with us barely becoming acquainted with Kuklinsky, who's introduced on his first date with soon-to-be-wife Deborah, before we see him slit a guy's throat for a minor insult. It's obvious early on that Kuklinsky is an utter sociopath, although one with limits- primarily that he won't kill women and kids, mostly due to his own love for Deborah and his daughters. Whether or not Kuklinski's was in fact the doting father depicted on-screen, his happy home life makes a sharp contrast to his blood-soaked work for insecure mob boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta, the go-to guy for roles like this), and his handlebar mustachioed lieutenant, played, of all people,by a nearly unrecognizable David Schwimmer.


After botching a hit, Kuklinski finds himself strapped for cash, and thus- hooks up with psychopathic killer Robert Pronge- played, behind loads of facial hair, by a strongly effective Chris Evans. The two become the city's number one pair of contract killers, using cyanide spray in one scene to silently whack a disco-dancing gangster, while Pronge also freezes bodies in his ice cream truck- for future disposal, giving Kuklinski his trademark handle.

The best thing about THE ICEMAN is that Vroman keeps the focus squarely on Shannon as Kuklinski, with him barely ever leaving the screen. This is essential. Shannon's performance is a perfect contrast to his other family man part, in last year's TAKE SHELTER. Shannon, who, lets face it, is a scary looking, intense guy- surprisingly has a knack playing doting dads. While he's a merciless killer- you can't help but kind of like Kuklinski, although a killer scene opposite Stephen Dorff as his incarcerated brother suggests that his family man persona might be just another act, as he sometimes comes off like the Chauncey Gardener of gangsters. Certainly, this possibility is explored once he throws his family into a scary car chase after being the victim of an inconsequential insult, or during his big kitchen breakdown opposite Ryder- who, in this scene, finally gets a sense of the true nature of the man she's sharing her life with. Kuklinski's utter lack of sympathy or remorse is also explored in a scene opposite cameo-ing James Franco, where the latter begs and prays desperately for his life- to Kuklinski's amusement.

A film as dark as THE ICEMAN can sometimes be a hard sell, but I'm pretty sure that THE ICEMAN will get a decent release sooner or later- with Shannon's profile about to get a big boost with MAN OF STEEL. It's a damn entertaining gangster yarn- and one that's all but guaranteed to pick up a cult following, as Shannon's performance is in the same league as other genre baddies, including Al Pacino in SCARFACE or Christopher Walken in KING OF NEW YORK. Hopefully he'll get more lead roles, as he's one of the most intriguing actors to come along in a while.

Source: JoBlo.com

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10:30AM on 09/14/2012

Loving Wife?

Has anyone read the biography or really listened to the interviews? He and his wife did NOT get along. From what I remember, he roughed her up all the time. I don't think he ever laid a hand on his kids, though. Just think that will be hard to get over that when watching it. I have no doubt that Shannon has a great performance.
Has anyone read the biography or really listened to the interviews? He and his wife did NOT get along. From what I remember, he roughed her up all the time. I don't think he ever laid a hand on his kids, though. Just think that will be hard to get over that when watching it. I have no doubt that Shannon has a great performance.
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5:58PM on 09/13/2012

Telluride

I saw this movie and loved it. Like seriously just for the performances. I've been waiting to see something good from Winona Ryder recently, and thought she was great in this. Michael Shannon was perfect. Also Chris Evans is not what you'd expect him to be.
I saw this movie and loved it. Like seriously just for the performances. I've been waiting to see something good from Winona Ryder recently, and thought she was great in this. Michael Shannon was perfect. Also Chris Evans is not what you'd expect him to be.
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1:45PM on 09/13/2012
Is the doc The Iceman Interviews? I'm interested in checking this out now.
Is the doc The Iceman Interviews? I'm interested in checking this out now.
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12:29PM on 09/13/2012
I'm a bit disappointed that this film is only 90 minutes. I've read the Ice Man 3 times and this movie (by the sounds of things, rushed) could have been a 2 and a half to 3 hour film that would tell Kuklinski's story properly. I'll still see it, but the run-time and pacing concern me. This dude was brutal and if the film followed his upbringing and his criminal beginnings it would be a masterpiece.
I'm a bit disappointed that this film is only 90 minutes. I've read the Ice Man 3 times and this movie (by the sounds of things, rushed) could have been a 2 and a half to 3 hour film that would tell Kuklinski's story properly. I'll still see it, but the run-time and pacing concern me. This dude was brutal and if the film followed his upbringing and his criminal beginnings it would be a masterpiece.
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8:51AM on 09/13/2012

This is not an 8 out of 10

This film is a 6. The story is too frantically paced and disjointed, the film contains superfluous scenes about Kuklinsky's childhood that are completely out of place, and the editing is sloppy. The film never alots the time to truly explore Kuklinsky's coldness as a killer (other than a single scene), which is what the entire film is supposed to hinge on. The performances are good, but that's about it.
This film is a 6. The story is too frantically paced and disjointed, the film contains superfluous scenes about Kuklinsky's childhood that are completely out of place, and the editing is sloppy. The film never alots the time to truly explore Kuklinsky's coldness as a killer (other than a single scene), which is what the entire film is supposed to hinge on. The performances are good, but that's about it.
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10:50AM on 09/13/2012
It's almost as if reviewing a movie is subjective.
It's almost as if reviewing a movie is subjective.
5:09PM on 09/13/2012
@Tyson - weird... I think he's right though, this Joblo reviewer's opinion does seem pretty wrong.
@Tyson - weird... I think he's right though, this Joblo reviewer's opinion does seem pretty wrong.
6:11AM on 09/13/2012
Been interested in a movie about this since I saw the doc. From what the review states it seems like they really did the story justice.
Been interested in a movie about this since I saw the doc. From what the review states it seems like they really did the story justice.
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3:03AM on 09/13/2012
Looking forward to this. I've seen mixed to positive reviews, but after watching the HBO interviews with the real guy, I'm very intrigued. He talked about a lot of the stuff in the film, including that scene they recreate with Franco, and it makes it all the more interesting.
Looking forward to this. I've seen mixed to positive reviews, but after watching the HBO interviews with the real guy, I'm very intrigued. He talked about a lot of the stuff in the film, including that scene they recreate with Franco, and it makes it all the more interesting.
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2:31AM on 09/13/2012
Can't wait for this. Shannon is fantastic as the Agent in Boardwalk Empire and I'm pretty sure he's gonna rock the pants off this role as The Iceman.
Can't wait for this. Shannon is fantastic as the Agent in Boardwalk Empire and I'm pretty sure he's gonna rock the pants off this role as The Iceman.
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