The Iceman Reviews
Over the course of a few decades, the ruthlessly cold blooded Kuklinski claimed to have killed over 100 people. As fascinating as this is, he also managed to maintain a double life almost flawlessly (until he finally got pinched). When he wasn't out killing people, Kuklinski was a feverishly devoted husband and family man, keeping the dark half of his life secret until it was too late.
This film focuses on the heyday of Kuklinski's life and career, starting with his humble beginnings as a man who dubbed porn movies, and moving to his career as an ice cold killer until he finally got busted in the mid 1980s. There's a lot of condensation of the story, and plenty of omissions, but hey, when the film's only 105 minutes long, stuff has to be left out, unfortunately.
The film does hit the highlights though, and gets the point across, but I wanted more. I would have loved it had this been about 20-25 minutes longer, with more scenes of character development, story, and more scenes of people getting whacked. Call me a sicko, but if you're film's gonna ape from masters like Scorsese, you should probably go all the way or not at all.
This is a well made product, no doubt, but it really doesn't offer as much insight or depth, and that's a bummer since the real story and man are so fascinating.
Michael Shannon is solid as Kuklinski, and he's back by an equally sterling supporting cast that includes Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, a scene stealing Chris Evans, an atypical turn from David Schwimmer, and all too brief cameos from Stephen Dorff and (even more memorably) James Franco.
I had my issues and disappointments here, but, while this film is rather bare bones, it's still watchable, so sure, you might want to give this a look. Just don't expect the whole to equal the sum of the parts.
Decently good mob drama! Michael Shannon giving a strong performance as the hit-man with the calculating and creepy demeanor of a psychopathic killer with no conscience who can still flip the switch back to his life in the suburbs with wife and kids. Ray Liotta a can't miss as a minor mob boss, all the acting first rate and the characters real. But the Iceman story is told without ice and without chasers, a gangster flick without sentiments real or phony thrown in. Viewers hoping to draw insights or conclusions from all the dead bodies might end up disappointed. It is a strong cast but a very plodding script that burns out after about 45 minutes. Were it not for the cast, the final judgment of the film would be dyspeptic.
In the 1960s, Richard Kuklinski is working as a porn film lab tech until his mob bosses persuade him to change his career into that of a contract killer. For years, Kuklinski gains a reputation for cold blooded professionalism even as he raises a family who are kept in the dark about his true career. Unfortunately, mob politics ultimately forces him to secretly work independently with the psychopathic Robert 'Mr. Freezy' Pronge. As much as Kuklinski tries to keep his lives separate, circumstances and his own weaknesses threaten a terrible collision as the consequences of his choices finally catch up to him.
Michael Shannon giving a strong performance as the hit-man with the calculating and creepy demeanor of a psychopathic killer with no conscience who can still flip the switch back to his life in the suburbs with wife and kids. Yet a shade of subtlety and pathos in his portrayal of Kuklinski that we can actually identify and take some interest in his struggles. With the exception of Winona Ryder who fits seamlessly as naive suburban housewife (and the 2 daughters) very unlikely to feel sympathy for the victims with the exception of one senseless killing. Mostly wiseguys, mostly scumbags. We're not all that mad at Kuklinski for the nasty stuff he's doing.
Ray Liotta a can't miss as a minor mob boss, all the acting first rate and the characters real. But the Iceman story is told without ice and without chasers, a gangster flick without sentiments real or phony thrown in. Viewers hoping to draw insights or conclusions from all the dead bodies might end up disappointed. The 'Iceman' moniker from his practice of freezing bodies to confuse the time of death.
My biggest question for Kuklinski would be, how do you get away with so many murders, so many different methods, places, people over a span of almost 40 years? In the true crime shows the perp makes one little slip in his only perfect crime and ends up in the slam.
The movie is what it is because I don't think there's all that much complex or new in a Kuklinski to learn. Abused growing up, turns to sociopathic super bully behavior as an adult to get what he wants and to survive. No genius but smart enough to know when to turn it down out in the suburbs. Kuklinski was an usher at mass every Sunday. They should have included that in the movie. 5 Stars 10-22-13
Michael Shannon is one weird, creepy actor and he is awesome for it. Here, he is at his creepiest as a serial killer hitman nicknamed The Iceman. Based on a true story, he kills over a hundred people. This isn't so much about his murders(although there are a lot of them). It's more about how he balances his home life as a husband and father of two, with his life as a killer. It's interesting and intense. The supporting cast is great with Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, James Franco, and Chris Evans, who is completely disguised. But this is Shannon's movie. If you enjoyed him in "Take Shelter" or on "Boardwalk Empire", then this is a must watch. I can see him getting award recognition for this. The biggest issue with the movie is the pacing. It's kind of slow and tedious in spots, but overall it's still entertaining. Worth a watch.
In the 1960's, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) was a quiet family man, who secretly worked as a porn lab technician until the New Jersey mob that ran his employment, shut him down and persuaded him to become a contract killer. For decades, Kuklinski would kill over 100 people and gain a reputation for his cold blooded professionalism, meanwhile keeping his wife (Winona Ryder) and kids completely in the dark about where their money came from.
Based on actual events, the story of Kuklinski is quite an intriguing one. This was a man who managed to separate his work and family life for so long that he was clearly a very manipulative and dangerous sociopath.
Much like Kuklinski's victims, though, the film seems strangely lifeless. Most mob films have you on the edge of your seat at least once throughout their running times but "The Iceman" never really manages to do that. Ariel Vorman's direction is flat and he poorly handles the script's leaps in time; relying on consistently changing facial hair as a narrative device. It just doesn't work and as a genre piece, it misses a real opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the similarly themed "Donnie Brasco".
Where the films strengths lie, are in the performances; Mafia boss Roy Demeo, is captured ferociously by Liotta, who seems to be the go-to-guy for mob figures these days, and the likes of Chris Evans impresses in an almost unrecognisable role as Robert "Mr. Freezy" Pronge - another hitman that Kuklinski gets involved with. Added to this, are smaller roles for James Franco, Stephen Dorff and an awkwardly ponytailed and moustachioed, David Schwimmer. Ultimately, though, it's Shannon that keeps this film afloat. Despite a fascinating character, the role is surprisingly underwritten, yet Shannon still manages to deliver a detached and menacing portrayal. Quite simply, without his presence, this would would be just another generic, colour-by-numbers, wannabe.
Good in places but ultimately, it's restrained to the point of monotony. This is a film that had so much potential but squandered it on clichÃ© and rely's too heavily on it's leading actor. Shannon delivers but he doesn't really get anything back for his efforts.
The main issue at play with The Iceman is that it's trying to draw out a character study for a rather impenetrable person. It's hard to get a solid read on the character of Richard Kuklinski. The compartmentalizing of these two very distinct lives is a fascinating psychology to explore, one I wish the filmmakers had spent a majority of the screen time upon. The internal justifications, struggles and compromises would make for an excellent and insightful look into the psychology of killer rationalization. However, I don't know if this movie would even be possible from this subject. Kuklinski is by all accounts a pretty detached guy. There just doesn't seem like there's a lot to him. His circumstances are interesting, beaten into an emotionless cipher by his father, brother to a fellow sociopath, and trying to make a reasonable life for himself while keeping his inner urges at bay. The sociopath-tries-to-make-good storyline is reminiscent to fans of TV's Dexter, and there's plenty of room to work there. It's an intriguing contradiction, the man who cares for so little protecting his family. In the end, we don't really get a sense of why beyond the illusion of the American Family that Kuklinski wants to hold onto, to make himself seem normal, to prove to his family he could break free from their influence. Even typing this I feel like I'm giving the film more depth than it actually illustrates. Even though he tries to play the part of devoted family man, we rarely see any evidence of devotion. He provides, yes, puts his kids in private school, but he puts his family at risk and doesn't seem to have affection for them as much as propriety. They are his things and nobody will mess with them. Your guess is as good as mine if he genuinely loves any of them.
Too much of the film gets mired in standard mob clichés. This guy upsets that guy; this guy wants the other guy dead. It all becomes the focal point of the movie, Kuklinski getting caught up in, essentially, office politics. Even the true-life details of the grisly methods of death feel like wasted potential for a better story. He goes on a job, he botches a job, he gets let go, so to speak, he strikes up a new partnership with another contract killer, Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans in a bad wig). That last part could have been a movie unto itself, watching an odd couple of hitmen plan, execute, and then dispose of their targets. The Iceman nickname comes from their process, freezing the dismembered corpses for months so that coroners cannot get a read on when the bodies were slain. While Evans is entertaining, this entire portion of the movie could have been eliminated, its bearing on the plot minimal. Likewise, the movie has several small roles populated by recognizable actors, which become a series of one-scene distractions. Kuklinski goes out on a hit and it's... James Franco. Then there's Friends actor David Schwimmer as a sleazy, ponytailed, nebbish mob screw-up. Stephen Dorff has one moment as Kuklinski's angry, desperate, murderous brother in prison. The actors are all fine, with the exception of Franco, but many of them are just another reminder of the film's disjointed attention.
I mentioned in Pain and Gain the notion of portraying true-life criminals as sympathetic figures, and the queasy nature of this complicit interpretation. The Iceman never really tries to make Kuklinski sympathetic or some form of an antihero, and I think the movie is better for it. One of the earliest moments in the film is Kuklinski slitting the throat of a guy who harassed him, and defamed his lady. This is BEFORE the guy is even hired as a contract killer too. He endangers his family in violent rages, let alone his professional entanglements. It seems like when the guy can't murder he becomes a worse family man. Even in the end, he's testing a new batch of cyanide on the neighborhood cat. The movie presents Kuklinski as he is, though you'll be forgiven for feeling some initial pings of sympathy when you seem him try and protect his family. Granted his family could also very well use protection from him.
Shannon's (Premium Rush) performance is what keeps you watching. There are few actors who are as intense as this guy, though I'm used to seeing him play unhinged psychos bouncing off the walls. Kuklinski is just as troubled as his other roles but he's all reserve, steely nerves, and anger that eventually bubbles over into violent rage. Shannon is still such a good actor that even with a thin character, or at least thin characterization, he can be completely compelling to watch onscreen. One of the more peculiar, inconsistent elements of the film is Shannon's constantly-changing facial hair. I think I lost count at about nine or ten different facial topiary variations. There were times where it will be different in consecutive scenes. I guess that's a tipoff of a time jump, but his morphing, period-appropriate facial hair also became a point of amusement.
What makes The Iceman so disappointing in retrospect is how much potential it seems to squander. There's a great story to be had with a contract killer by night and a family man by day. That contradiction, the struggle, the psychology is all rich material to work with. It's just that Kuklinski is not necessarily that guy; he's not too deep, at least not in this version, and his killer work problems are just not that compelling. If this is what the filmmakers were going to do with their real-life subject, then they might as well have just used Kuklinski as inspiration. Take the best parts and then compose a different lead character, someone more emotionally transparent or relatable or just plain old interesting. Just because it's a real story doesn't mean you're indebted to telling every true facet of it, especially when a better story is within sight. Shannon is a terrific actor and does his best to make the film worth watching, but from distracted plotting to unmet analysis and emotional exploration, it's hard to walk away from The Iceman and not feel a bit chilly.
Nate's Grade: C+
"The Iceman" is one of those based on a true stories that wants to rests on the fact that it is a true story and do nothing more to explore the contradictions in its protagonist.(Plus, the exact dating of events is unnecessary.) In the bargain, it says little on the subject of suburban sociopaths that has not already been said and then some in such fictional examples as "Breaking Bad" and Dexter." That lackluster approach is certainly not helped by Michael Shannon's 1 1/2 note performance. At least, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta and a nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans are very good in support.
There were two approaches Vromen could have taken with his true life tale of America's most notorious Mafia hitman - film it as a gangster movie or a serial killer flick. He chooses the former, and digs himself into a hole as a result. The gangster movie, with its rise-and-fall structure, relies on a protagonist the audience can envy, if not empathize with. (Think of the charismatic monsters essayed by Cagney and Pacino). Nobody in their right mind would envy Kuklinski's life. It's never even made clear just how much money he's being paid for his handywork. He's certainly not someone we can empathize with. Once we've witnessed him cold-bloodedly murder a homeless man at the movie's start, it's impossible for us to get on his side.
Shannon does a great job with a poorly fleshed out character but he's battling against a badly written script. We learn nothing about this character. Save for an encounter with a pornographer (Franco), in which he questions the existence of God, we don't see him interact with his victims; the killings are relegated to a few quick montages. As his wife, Ryder puts in a good shift but, again, the character is poorly developed, another stereotypical "wife who knew nothing of her husband's work". In the support roles, there's a lot of casting against type. Evans and Schwimmer are unintentionally amusing at times, (more the writer's fault than theirs), all "Joysey" accents and comedy mustaches.
From a dramatic point of view, the film's biggest problem is the lack of an antagonist. We're denied seeing the police investigation into his killings which means the film is devoid of suspense. Think of a 'Columbo' episode. Now think of that episode without 'Columbo'. That's 'The Iceman'.