Michael Shannon Cometh
Everyone keeps secrets from each other. Some big, some small. Director/co-writer Ariel Vroman’s new film “The Iceman” is based on the true story of Richard “Richie” Kuklinski. He has a big secret—he’s a hired mob hitman. He manages to keep secret from his wife and daughters the fact that he is a contract killer or hitman, if you prefer, for a local mobster. For almost twenty years and close to a hundred hits his secret remains safe until he is finally caught.
“The Iceman” starts at the end with a grizzled, bearded Kuklinski (Shannon doing a great impression of Tom Hanks from “Cast Away”) in a darkened room. The look on his face is a combination of pained and distant. His mournful regrets lead the film back to the beginning, think of this as the Iceman’s origin story like all of the in-vogue comic book movies. Richie is on an awkward date with his soon-to-be wife Deborah (a good-yet-understated performance by Winona Ryder who is now old enough to play a mother with teens!) in the early 60′s. Very early in the movie it becomes clear that Richie is not one to tell the truth about his job.
Richie goes from dubbing foreign porn films to executing hits for Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta, natch) the local mobster. His initiation is to whack a bum in broad daylight which Richie does calmly causing Roy to remark that he has ice in his veins. This is not why he’s called the Iceman, that comes later with freezing bodies but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The hitman business picks up allowing Richie to move his family to better digs. He tells them his new job is as a currency trader which serves as a great cover story for him. Business picks up as Richie whacks all kinds of people, gaining quite a reputation. Then Rosenthal (David “Ross” Schwimmer), Ray’s childhood buddy, gets their gang in trouble by robbing and whacking rival criminals so everyone has to go into hiding until the heat cools down.
Unemployed hitmen have a hard time finding similar work, but luckily Richie meets Mr. Freezy (nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans, Captain America himself). Mr. Freezy is not your typical hitman, he also doubles as an ice cream man complete with truck. The two of them strike up an uneasy partnership and start whacking bad guys as a team. Now we are well into the 70′s and we have been treated to all kinds of great face jewelry by Richie and all of the characters. Schwimmer’s character rocks a pornstache & ponytail for a long time too. Richie eventually runs into trouble when Roy learns about his side-work. Now Richie has a hit on himself which is threatening to turn into a war. This puts Richie’s family in danger, something he’s tried to avoid. Like all good things, the hitman business finally ends, Richie survives the war just long enough to get pinched. The one thing he ever cared about in the whole world was his family but once he is arrested he never sees them again.
“The Iceman” is a morality tale in an immoral world. The back-story of Richie is downplayed except for a brief scene with his incarcerated brother and a few flashbacks revealing the punishment his father doled out to him. Shannon’s performance is top-notch, striking the perfect balance of icy, cold killer with an emotionally stunted man trying his best to provide for his family. As the movie progresses one gets glimpses of Richie going completely off the rails yet aside from a hit-n-run chase with his family in the car, Richie never goes full-on crazy. It’s a shame because very few actors today have Shannon’s unnerving screen presence to be able to pull it off, anyone who has seen him in “Bug” or “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done” will know what he can pull off.
In the end, Kuklinski’s story is just not interesting enough to hold your attention for the whole movie. The rest of the cast does not get enough screen time to have any of their characters develop much at all, which is a shame as the cast is very good. It was great to see longtime character actor Robert Davi get a decent role as Leonard Marks, a rival mobster. Other good moments are seeing Shannon in a polyester shirt dance briefly to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and for anyone who hated Ross from “Friends” they will be in for a treat. Oh, and if you’ve seen the trailer James Franco gets killed, which many will like too.