Even though we get a mob film of the likes we’ve seen before, it is still to our benefit that we get it at all. Why, you ask? Because this mob film stars Michael Shannon as the notorious hit man, Richard Kuklinski, and he is downright creepy, in the best possible way.
No, this is not a film about some comic book villain. It might seem like it by the title and the fact that this summer is going to be full of movies of that sort. In fact, it’s based on a true story. Even though we get a mob film of the likes we’ve seen before, it is still to our benefit that we get it at all. Why, you ask? Because this mob film stars Michael Shannon as the notorious hit man, Richard Kuklinski, and he is downright creepy, in the best possible way.
Richard Kuklinski was working in a film lab making copies of low-end adult films for the mob in the mid 1960’s. His unseen mob boss, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) meets him and decides to make Kuklinski a hired gun. Kuklinski managed to live a complete double life; one of mob hitman, supposedly having killed over 100 people from 1964 to 1986, and also was able to be a loving husband and father without his family ever knowing that he worked for the mob.
For all of it’s good points, The Iceman is a fairly standard mob movie. It even has Ray Liotta as a mob boss. If ever there was an actor that was typecast…poor Liotta. It seems as he gets older, Good Fellas is becoming the best, and worst, thing to happen to him. Nevertheless, he’s solid here as Demeo. Obviously, he better be after all those freakin’ mob movies. But the story is pretty straight-forward and much of the career of Kuklinski is shown in a montage. Then the remainder of his life is shown in important events that lead to his eventual arrest. Not to say that it isn’t interesting, but the overall course of the film is less detailed than, say, well, Good Fellas. Oh, the irony. However, the performances are all solid, even Wynona Ryder as the Mrs. Kuklinski is appropriately naive and house-wifey.
In addition, Chris Evans, in a fine example of trying not to be typecast, is great as Mr. Freezy, a gun for hire that drives an ice cream truck during the day. With his long hair, ’70’s moustache and old aviator shades, he couldn’t be farther from ol’ Cap. America. James Franco has a small role that seems totally apropos. Stephen Dorff – also almost unrecognizeable – appears briefly as Kuklinski’s brother, and David Schwimmer appears as Josh Rosenthal, Demeo’s old friend and right hand man, yet I still can’t get Ross from Friend’s out of my head when I see him. He’s never gonna get distance from that, I swear. And in case you were wondering, the great character actor Robert Davi is alive and well, and seemingly unaged (though it’s often hard to tell), as the representative of Demeo’s rival mob family.
But of course, and very fortunate for this film, Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski is wonderful. In what may seem at first a flat, two-dimensional performance, slowly becomes the portrait of a man that has little regard for most human life. His cold exterior cracks occasionally, but only with protective concern for his family. At one point he states that he doesn’t kill woman and children. Nice to see that he drew the line somewhere. But there are moments in The Iceman where Shannon’s expression is, well, downright chilling. You can see this man controlled on the outside, while underneath lies a rage just frothing to get out and kill. Shannon deftly conveys it all.
The Iceman is a decent film, with only an ok script and direction that is serviceable to the average viewer, like me, but for Michael Shannon’s excellent performance alone I give this three kittenhands. Maybe more. I can’t wait to see him as Zodd in this summer’s Man of Steel.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, knows it’s pretty clear that Schwimmer’s career will never be on a break from Ross.