BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Ariel Vromen
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, James Franco, David Schwimmer, John Ventimiglia, Robert Davi, Stephen Dorff
Between the 1950s and the 1980s Richard Kuklinski killed somewhere between 100 and 250 people as a contract killer for the Mafia, his method of freezing the corpses to try and confuse the police when it came to establishing time of death earning him the nickname of The Iceman. What was extraordinary about Kuklinski’s life was that his devoted wife and family were completely unaware of what he did to earn the thousands of dollars to pay for their comfortable lifestyle. Kuklinski’s life has already been documented in a couple of books and now The Iceman brings this incredible story to the screen.
The film begins in 1964 where Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon – Man of Steel) is on a date with Deborah Pellicotti (Winona Ryder – Beetlejuice), and he tells her that he dubs Disney cartoons for a living. In actual fact, he dubbed and edited porn films and we soon see him at work where he gets threatened by vicious gangster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta – Goodfellas). Impressing DeMeo with his cold exterior after killing a vagrant, Kuklinski is hired by the mobster as a hitman and steadily builds a reputation amongst all the mob families as a man with a very short temper and someone to be feared.
During this time Kuklinski married Deborah and they had two daughters. Despite his fearsome reputation Kuklinski was a devoted family man and, although he was prone to outbursts of temper, kept his illegal activities secret from his family up until his eventual arrest
There are certain actors who give performances where you don’t see the actor but rather the character they are portraying; Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight is a good example, and the same could be said for Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski. If you’ve read Anthony Bruno’s The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold Blooded Killer (the book on which this film is mainly based) or The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo, or have seen any of the documentaries about Kuklinski (they’re all on Youtube), then it soon becomes apparent that Michael Shannon brilliantly encapsulates the intimidating menace of the killer and in the opening and closing scenes of the film, where Kuklinski is being interviewed in jail, you could be mistaken for thinking it was the man himself.
But Shannon is also bolstered by a tremendous supporting cast who all seem to be playing at the top of their game. Winona Ryder gives her all as Kuklinski’s wife Deborah, giving a highly believable performance that perfectly balances the vulnerability and inner strength that the character needs. Big praise also to Ray Liotta as DeMeo and Robert Davi (The Goonies/Die Hard) as mob boss Leo Marks, who don’t do anything they haven’t done before but knock it out of the park by adding plenty of clout where it’s needed. David Schwimmer (Friends) and Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger) also show up as heavies, both completely unrecognisable doing something neither of them would normally do and doing it very well, especially when it could have so easily slipped into parody mode, especially in Schwimmer’s case.
So the cast are all top notch, the period settings are brilliantly realised and there’s a whole lifetime of crime to draw a good story from but where The Iceman falls down is in the fact that this film could really be about anybody. Whereas films like Goodfellas must have drawn some of their inspiration from Kuklinski’s life, ironically the film about the man himself plays it too safe and comes across like a bog standard gangster drama, throwing in a few details like Kuklinski’s trick of poisoning people with a toxic mist but never really delving into the details that made the books such enthralling reading. You never really get the idea of where he earned his nickname from as you only get a couple of short scenes of him doing anything with a dead body, his troubled childhood is barely touched upon during the one scene involving his younger brother Joey (Stephen Dorff – Blade) and other issues like his out-of-control gambling habits aren’t even part of this story, meaning that the character we see on the screen ends the film pretty much as he began it and having very little – if any – of a character arc.
The Iceman is a solid enough true crime thriller that probably benefits more from going into it without much prior knowledge of Richard Kuklinski or any of the books written about him. As a true biography of Kuklinski’s life and crimes it only skims the surface and delivers only the barest details in the standard movie biopic way, and given the effort that the cast and crew have put in to bringing the period setting and characters to life it feels somewhat prudent and underwhelming. However, until somebody gets round to making a more detailed depiction of the fascinating life that Kuklinski led then The Iceman, with no small thanks to an amazing performance from Michael Shannon, does just enough to cover the basics.
Special Features: Behind the scenes featurette
UK Release Date: 30th September 2013