Review: The Iceman
PLOT: THE ICEMAN is the effectively dark portrait of the nefarious mafia hit-man/predator Richard Kuklinski. The film focuses on his years as a family man who kept his deadly murderous career secret from his wife and children until his arrest in 1986.
There is an awkwardly sweet moment that is shared between the abrasive and gruff Richard Kuklinski (played by Michael Shannon) and his date – and soon to be wife - Deborah (Winona Ryder) early on in Ariel Vromen’s new feature THE ICEMAN. While eating at a restaurant the couple uncomfortably gets to know each other over dinner. If you had no idea who this man was or why he was arrested in 1986, you’d almost find Shannon’s portrayal of the vicious killer charming in a rough around the edges sort of way.
In the new film which is based on the notorious contract killer, Shannon gives what is simply a tour de force performance. He recreates Kuklinski as a cold and brutal murderer who lives a double life partly to give his family the financial security that he feels they deserve. Yet there is a reason why this is called “The Iceman.” When he takes another man’s life for his mafia boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) – or simply because they insult his wife - there is emptiness in his soul. He can put a bullet through someone’s head or slit another man’s throat with less emotion than somebody would while they swat a fly.
Told through Kuklinski’s perspective, Vromen attempts to give a little insight of this killer’s mind. Whether it is his broken relationship with his brother Joey (Stephen Dorff) or the unsettling working one he shares with a fellow, and equally vicious contract killer named Mr. Freezy (a terrific Chris Evans), this is beyond simply a dysfunctional portrait. There is never a single moment where we understand his chilling compulsion. This is true even when we occasionally see him as a family man who loves his wife and his daughters (some of his families details were changed for the film). The family man aspect gives the character a little bit of heart and somehow softens the blow.
It is clear that the filmmakers have given this character a little more warmth when it comes to his wife and children. The truth of that is questionable especially when it comes to his relationship with Deborah (her real name is Barbara). However as hard as it is to connect with a leading character with such a black heart, it might be a little too unsettling for audiences to see Kuklinski’s reportedly abusive relationship with his wife. Taking that into account, the film takes a few liberties with this particular relationship. Though this particular change made a slight emotional disconnect in regards to the impact the film had on me personally.
With solid directing from Vromen and Michael Shannon giving a fantastic performance, there is no doubt that THE ICEMAN will appeal to those willing to take the trip. Even still, many may be turned off simply by the subject matter alone. The on-screen violence is not overtly gory or altogether shocking which for this particular story’s sake is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one key to the success of the film is the straightforward presentation of the killings. THE ICEMAN is a tense dramatic thriller presenting a grim – yet seemingly more picturesque – portrayal of a cold and calculated killer, a role that is tailor made for the ferociously intense Michael Shannon. The film also features a number of other fine performances including Ryder, Liotta, Evans as well as Robert Davi and James Franco in smaller roles.