By Gary Murray
Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder and Chris Evans
Written by Morgan Land and Ariel Vromen
Directed by Ariel Vromen
Running time 106 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Michael Shannon has been making some headway in breaking into the A-list of actors. Though he is mostly known as a television performer, he can be seen in such films as Take Shelter and Machine Gun Preacher. His latest starring vehicle is The Iceman.
The plot of The Iceman is the life story of Richard Kuklinski. As the film opens, he works in the lowest rung of organized crime. He loops porn flicks. He tells his girl Deborah (Winona Ryder) that he dubs cartoons. During the entire film, she is woefully ignorant of exactly what her man does.
Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) is a gangster who is looking for muscle. Roy is impressed by the detached nature of Kuklinski and hires the man to become his hit man, taking out his enemies. Richard becomes the go-to guy for Roy, killing man after man after man. In order to hide his nefarious paychecks, Richard claims he is an investment specialist.
Richard eventually befriends another hit man named Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans) who drives around in an ice cream van and keeps more than just treats in his freezer. This is the part of the film that works the best.
When things become hot around Roy, Richard decides to take on other contracts with Mr. Freezy. The two work together but never trust the other. The story is of the eventual downfall of Richard as he tries to go legit. Iceman is a based on a true story but it feels like Tarrantino fiction.
There are problems with the film. The clothing and facial hair from the 1970s looks like something out of a bad porno flick and the same cars keep popping up year after year. This is a low budget film that needed more money to make the details convincible. As it stands, Iceman has error after error in backgrounds and particulars. Director Ariel Vromen does the best that he can with what is has got but needed to do more to make the world convincing.
Michael Shannon does a brilliant job in the performance of Richard Kuklinski. He is a cold blooded killer who lives a duplicitous life. He’s the perfect family man who is a loving stalwart to his wife and daughters while still being a ruthless slaughter machine. This is a hard character to make humane and Michael Shannon finds the right beat between cruelty and compassion. It is a fascinating performance to watch.
Winona Ryder never makes much of an impression in her role as Deborah. This is a thankless and weakly written role. She plays the perfect suburban wife, woefully ignorant of the cruel world she is barely a part of. This is the happy homemaker who never suspects. It could have been so much more.
The strangest aspect of The Iceman is the performance by David Schwimmer as Josh Rosenthal. Behind the mustache and hair, he is almost unrecognizable. This is a guy who has no clue about how dangerous a game he plays by being attached to the mob. He is an all swagger coward behind the façade.
Another strange aspect of The Iceman is Chris Evans as Mr. Freezy. This is another performance hidden behind facial hair but it is a much cooler representation. The film would have been a stronger contender if it would have been the different styles of our two hit-men rather than a focus on just one.
The Iceman, in the end, is an interesting exploration of a man but not an effective motion picture. There is not much to the plot just an interesting character. I’m sure that the biography of Richard Kuklinski would be a fascinating read. It just makes for an okay motion picture.