Directed by: Ariel Vromen
I was disappointed with ‘The Iceman’. Quite a while back the trailer really did wet my appetite, and I got the impression (perhaps my hopes were raised too high?) that it might possibly be a good no holds barred true crime thriller, especially considered the film’s deliciously stellar cast. Many wiser film fans often ignore trailers. I don’t, for me the film trailer is an art form in itself, and the trailer for ‘The Iceman’ led me to believe I was about to witness something truly shocking.
For once Michael Shannon, an actor who has become rather adept at playing unhinged characters, falters. It’s as if he can’t quite get in touch with the role. Playing a real life murderous psychopath that is so far disconnected from the act of murder is of course not an easy task, but it’s as if a personality as sinister and damaged as Richard Kuklinski could not be translated on screen. Shannon really had a thankless task.
The other fault is the film’s timeline which covers several decades. The film begins in the sixties where Kuklinski awkwardly romances Deborah (Winona Ryder) and together the couple have a couple of kids and struggle by in suburbia. Kuklinski keeps secrets from his wife; the biggest perhaps is his turbulent past. Kuklinski endured an abusive childhood, as a teenager he was savagely beaten and like most disturbed young men, in retaliation he tortured animals, and then turned his anger out on people. He did not value human life.
Kuklinski is hired by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), an edgy mob boss, who is impressed by Kuklinski’s icy exterior. Liotta, dating back to ‘Goodfellas’ has usually been a dependable mob figure, but for whatever reason like with most aspects of ‘The Iceman’ he doesn’t quite click. His cokehead jitter is tired, and I can’t be the only one who was alarmed by Liotta’s prominent eyeliner. If looking for plus points, and we’re not talking about the sleazy James Franco cameo, then Chris Evans as Robert Pronge is the film’s standout performer. Arguably more psychotic, the wiry Pronge represents an almost cartoonish form of evil.
But aside from the acting, let’s get back to the timeline. We jump a decade pretty quickly, entering the decadent seventies. Kuklinski grows a terrible moustache, and continues to bump off people for DeMeo until he makes an error, ending up on hitman’s gardening leave. This leads him to take work from Pronge. It’s tricky to capture twenty years, and I suppose we’re given the impression that all violence dished out by Kuklinski goes by in a blur. The victims are deliberately faceless. It’s just hit after hit after hit.
‘The Iceman’ tries to humanize Richard Kuklinski, and seems to ignore key real life events. Kuklinski was a serial killer before he became a hitman, one might argue there’s not too much difference, but he killed for pleasure of the hunt long before he killed for pay. This is glossed over. We see Kuklinski killing a guy in a pool hall car park after a disagreement, but we don’t see the stalking, how he mercilessly preyed upon his victims.
To base a film upon a serial murderer it would be assumed that you would need to present the true nature of evil, and the complexities of an upbringing which drove Kuklinski to commit so many violent acts. Those interested in learning about Richard Kuklinski would probably be better off watching the HBO documentary ‘The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman’.