Running Time: 105 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie HCF Official Artist
On the surface Richard Leonard Kuklinski seemed a caring family man and a respectable member of society living in the suburb of Dumont in New Jersey. Unbeknownst to his family he was also a serial killer and hitman for the DeCavalcante crime family and New York’s Five Families. He earned the titular title, The Iceman due to placing some of his victims in an industrial freezer to mask the time of death. He adopted this method from a fellow killer and ice-cream salesman called Robert Prongay, nicknamed Mr Freezy. Between 1948 and 1986, it was claimed that Kuklinski had murdered between 100 and 250 people.
Ariel Vroman’s adaptation of Kuklinski is as infuriating as it is engaging. The film begins with a young couple, Richie (Michael Shannon) and Deborah (Winona Ryder) sharing a romantic but awkward first date at a run-down diner. Very few words are uttered from Richie but he does tell his date that she’s prettier than Natalie Wood. This wins him a second date. Later when he plays pool with his friends, a drunk makes a lewd comment about Deborah. He follows the man out to his car and slits his throat without hesitation. Richie’s cold blooded demeanour does not go unnoticed with local hood, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) employing him as a ‘no questions asked’ hitman for his gang. The arrangement is a match made in heaven as Richie balances his normal life with his addiction to killing. When an unhinged gang member (David Schwimmer) brings heat on Demeo’s operation from rival gangs and the police, Kuklinski is told to lay low until further notice. With bills to pay and an itchy trigger finger, he seeks a business agreement with rival killer, Robert Prongay (Chris Evans). However Demeo is none too happy when he discovers the work that he is carrying out without his consent.
The Iceman is an average film filled with wonderful moments and an incredible central performance from Michael Shannon. Having wooed film critics with his portrayal of a loving family man fighting madness in Take Shelter, Shannon is exceptional and captivating as the Polish/ American serial killer. The actor has a similar sinister look to the likes of Christopher Walken and Peter Weller that makes him perfect for the tortured or psychopathic role. He is literally dripping with menace. The supporting roles are impressive also. Winona Ryder has finally been given her a part worthy of her talents. She is totally convincing in the role of Kuklinski’s loving but naive wife. Ray Liotta is his usual reliable self as the snarling mobster, Demeo and Chris Evan is horrifying and hilarious as the immoral psychopath Prongay.
Ultimately it is the narrative that brings The Iceman down from being a great film to a good one. The pace is all over the place and the countless killings become repetitive and a little tedious. There are some scenes that really hit the mark, including a cruel sequence where the hitman gives James Franco’s terrified victim the opportunity to beg for god’s intervention before he receives a bullet through the head and a tension filled road rage incident where Kuklinski risks his family’s lives when his temper snaps. Top marks should also be given for the imaginative use of facial hair that is used for many of the characters during the 1970’s period. David Schwimmer’s moustache should be nominated for an award all on its own.
The Iceman is an engaging and unpleasant drama that is well worth a look when it is released on DVD later in the year. However it will be Shannon’s performance rather the movie that will be remembered in years to come.