Well, it’s entertaining(in a sadistic way)while it’s running, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression by the time it all wraps up. My initial thought? You’ll get much more of a chill re-watching the infamous “Iceman Tapes”, that ran on cable television in the 1990’s. Yeah, that real-life Richard Kuklinski was a scary, evil dude(and I’m usually reluctant to describe people as evil). A hit-man for the mob, Kuklinski chills you in those prison-shot “Iceman Tapes”, as he nonchalantly describes the various(and apparently plentiful)mob contract killings, that he carried out on a regular basis for over twenty years. And this motion picture dramatization, and unfortunately again, the many “artistic license” embellishments, hamper it from becoming a truly exceptional film. The cast, however, is darn fine.
Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski, and you can’t possibly come up with a finer choice. Maybe Christopher Walken 25 years ago, but that’s about it. Shannon’s style has a level of icy laced with moments of combustible in his roles where he’s not a murderer—so here he’s right in his wheelhouse. And as the film opens with his wooing of the “girl of his dreams” at a Jersey City diner circa 1964, we even manage to be a little charmed by Shannon’s Kuklinski. That’s some balancing act for a performer, but Shannon manages it smoothly. He’s aided by a terrific turn from Winona Ryder, as his eventual loving spouse Deborah. Every time WR pops up in a role these last few years, I realize how much I’ve missed her since her heyday(and she’s still only 42!). And then the pattern is set—Kuklinski becomes a hit man because of the “icy” demeanor noticed by a mob boss he gets entangled with through a porn film business that he works for. Ray Liotta plays mobster Roy DeMeo, and…well talk about being in your wheelhouse. For two-plus decades, Kuklinski slaughters dozens of men, switching up his methods frequently to avoid capture, while he lives blissfully in the Jersey suburbs, with his clueless loving wife and two young daughters(they think he’s a stock broker). Until he can hide no longer, that is.
There’s some wonderful support work here from a bunch of recognizable names. James Franco appears briefly as a sniveling victim. David Schwimmer is a sleazy, long-haired screw-up. And even Chris(“Captain America”!)Evans shows up as a hit-man who operates out of an ice cream truck! But director Ariel Vromen doesn’t seem able to make all of this work cohesively, outside of a paint-by-numbers, connect-the-dots approach. Any artistic choices are muted when you insist on just “playing the hits”. It’s disappointing, because all of the elements are there for greatness. And why travel the path of simple, by making Kuklinski the perfect husband and father throughout? It’s not accurate. In actuality, Kuklinski would beat his wife and blacken her eyes—he could turn on a dime. His wife and children grew to despise him, and they once considered poisoning his food. But the film wanted to work that bizarre dichotomy, so there’s nowhere to go with the simplistic plot over time. But if you want to be truly horrified, I suggest finding those old interviews. They will more than make up, where “The Iceman” lacks. Grade: C+