The Iceman is based on the true story of New Jersey contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) who murdered more than 100 men before he was finally arrested in 1986. As well as being a cold blooded killer, Kuklinski was a devoted husband and Father who kept his work a secret from his family. The film shows these contrasting sides of his life and how eventually as he loses control of his work / life balance, cracks starts to appear and the law slowly catches up with him.
Kuklinski almost just falls into the contract killer job after an incident with mob boss DeMeo (Ray Liotta)where his cold unflinching nature becomes apparent. DeMeo sees potential in this personality trait and hires him as a contract killer. A montage of killing clips follows as Kuklinski gets better at his job and gradually gets richer as the money starts rolling in. Then the films cuts to a better dressed Kuklinski out for a posh meal with his wife Deborah and friends. It is revealed Kuklinski’s cover is that he’s a businessman, which his wife and friends seems to accept without question.
For years, Kuklinski seems to evade the law but when an incident leads to DeMeo asking him to retire, he is forced to find work elsewhere and starts taking risks that put him and his family in danger and draw the law’s attention closer to him.
There are only very brief references to Kuklinski’s childhood and what may be behind his cruel nature. A quick mention of a brutal Father is about the only explanation and the rest is left to the audience to guess at. This vagueness makes it difficult to feel any empathy towards the character. The killings themselves are mostly skimmed over which may be intentional to mirror the character’s coldness and his feelings towards the acts he is committing, but it does feel like there should more emphasis on the horror of the acts he committed.
This is an average film that is made worthwhile by the performances it contains. Shannon excels as cold blooded killer Kuklinski who somehow manages to only convey real emotion in the family scenes and shows cold detachment everywhere else. Winona Ryder is likeable as gullible wife Deborah who never suspects her improving surroundings are due to anything but her husband’s honest hard work. Even when cracks start to show and Kuklinki’s temper starts to reveal itself at home, she never for a second starts to suspect. Ray Liotta is excellent, once again playing a mob boss. He may be typecast in that role, but he always plays it superbly. David Schwimmer is entertaining as sleazeball Josh Rosenthal and convincingly carries off a ponytail and moustache. All the performances are excellent, but the film itself leaves you cold.
Dir: Ariel Vromen
Cast: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans
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