Richard Kuklinski was one of the most notorious killers in American history, a sociopath who felt so little emotion about what he had to do to provide for his family that his loved ones had no real clue about his gruesome profession. That kind of single-minded remorselessness makes The Iceman, a biopic of Kuklinski from director Ariel Vromen, fall short of compelling drama, even with the commanding presence of Michael Shannon in the lead role.
As far as the plot of The Iceman -- the title comes from Kuklinski's nickname -- goes, it's a very straightforward telling of how he rose through the ranks of the criminal underworld, married his mousy, clueless wife Deborah (Winona Ryder), and eventually was apprehended after murdering more than 100 people. While the mechanics of criminal life have been covered to death in previous films, what makes this one stand out is Shannon. Few actors of his generation can express menace like he does, and this role gives him a ceaseless chance to glower and intimidate.
Vromen gives the picture a washed-out, gritty ’70s feel; it's an appealingly scuzzy look that seems wholly appropriate for the subject matter. In addition, he's cast the film quite well with other notable tough guys (such as Ray Liotta), as well as a couple of genuine surprises from actors you wouldn’t expect to see in a movie like this. Chris Evans sheds any semblance of Captain America as a fellow criminal who helps give Kuklinski the modus operandi that leads to his nickname, and David Schwimmer not only leaves behind any traces of Ross from Friends, but is nearly unrecognizable behind some exquisite Serpico-esque facial hair.
What keeps the film from blossoming into something great is the fact that Kuklinski never becomes three-dimensional, in part because the real person wasn't. Shannon is monstrous here, thoroughly unafraid of communicating his character’s amorality. It's never quite love that he seems to feel for his wife; she almost feels like an excuse for him to traffic in bloodletting and mayhem -- and his relationship with his fellow criminally minded brother (Stephen Dorff) could best be described as having a Cain-and-Abel vibe.
The script, by Vromen and Morgan Land, settles on showing what happened without ever asking why. The movie ends with a scene designed to explore how deeply denial can run in an individual, and while that level of pathology makes for a fascinating case study, it doesn't quite qualify as drama. The script is so straight-ahead, and Shannon's performance is so forceful, that The Iceman doesn't offer any real insight into this monster, but if you just want to glimpse a character capable of genuine evil, it's effectively chilling.
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- Released: 2012
- Rating: R
- Review: Richard Kuklinski was one of the most notorious killers in American history, a sociopath who felt so little emotion about what he had to do to provide for his family that his loved ones had no real clue about his gruesome profession. That kind of single-mi… (more)