The Iceman (2012)

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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’.

– RJW
4/10

The Iceman on IMDB

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Killing Them Softly (2012)

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Ever wondered what comes after capitalism fails, after the greedy have taken advantage of the system so much that it haemorrhages until it can no longer sustain all of its parts? You could do worse than check out this statement on such an unfortunate event. This is the beginning of the end of an empire, a look underneath the surface and between the cracks. They say it rolls downhill but what happens when it can’t roll any further, what happens at the bottom when the well runs dry? When the going gets tough men have to get tougher or they’ll be chewed up and spat out.

A forcibly unapologetic statement on the effects and short-sightedness of greed, Killing Them Softly is the third film by Australian auteur Andrew Dominik and the second pairing between him and Brad Pitt following the poetic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s very clear that these two work well together and Pitt certainly enjoys himself as the cool hitman and central ‘take responsibility for your actions’ metaphor Jackie Cogan.

The third adaptation for Dominik, this time based on the 1974 George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade. The setting is shifted from Boston to post-Katrina New Orleans against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election with plenty of Obama austerity speeches dotted throughout and served up on a sledgehammer such is the nature of the point being made.

Nice guy Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) hosts tables for mob card games but soon becomes the fall guy and public example when his night is hit by two small time crooks. Pitt’s Cogan is subsequently called in to investigate and resolve with necessary retribution by the un-named mob spokesman (Richard Jenkins) who seems keener to stress frugality over results.

Dominik again proves how adept he is at the helm by creating a stunningly beautiful picture that highlights the murky underworld of crime under the rapidly approaching cover of poverty. There are two stand out assassination scenes both totally different in execution, one dances with the elegance of a ballet in a hail of slow-mo bullets and exit wounds and one rolls around in the muck like a filthy crippled pig, but both are equally effective in highlighting his technical and artistic ability.

He also persuades human performances from his all-star cast to breathe cigarette smoke life into grotesque and desperate characters. James Gandolfini in particular with a stand out turn as washed up, hooker-addicted New York hitman Mickey who Cogan soon realises is not up to the task at hand so devises an adhoc counter scheme to remove him from the job.

Instead of following the usual 1st-2nd-3rd act formula we’re dropped into a point in time and then removed a few days later after this particular situation is over. We feel as if life goes on for those involved and achingly so, in fact we’re glad we’re not them and we don’t have to experience what they do any longer. This film doesn’t make gangsters look pretty and it doesn’t make their line of work fashionable, after all they have to tighten their belts like the rest of us in times of recession.

You would be forgiven for thinking of Scorsese when hearing the fast, wise-guy dialogue and there are shades of Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis in its setup but this is all Dominik in voice and execution. Effectively this is less a story and more an allegorical talkie piece with generally two or 3 main characters on screen at any one time constantly spitting dialogue and driving home the point the film sets out to make. Finely capped by a cynical, brilliant speech Dominik achieves simply by telling the truth and without the need to labour it. When the gloves are off each man has to take responsibility and survive however he can even if he has to drop his morals to do so. America is a business after all.

– Greg Foster

Killing Them Softly on IMDB
Buy Killing Them Softly [DVD]

Coldblooded (1995)

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Our mini-mid-90s thon ends with this, one of those oddball, self-consciously cool comedy thrillers which major studios seemed to be falling over themselves to make at the time, thanks to “Pulp Fiction”, “Clerks”, “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” and the Weinsteins bringing the best of indie cinema to the mainstream. If you lived through the era, chances are you’ll have seen a ton of those films, with their wisecracking murderers, pop culture referencing dialogue and “cool” little quirks, but I lived through that era and had never heard of this one. So, what’s it like?

Jason Priestley, at the height of his “Beverly Hills 90210” TV stardom, is Cosmo, a mob bookie whose life is sitting by a phone to take bets, going home to his room in the basement of an old people’s home (told you it was quirky) and sleeping with Honey (Janeane Garofalo), a hooker with a heart. Well, not really a heart. “Affectless” is the best way to describe him, as he seems curiously un-human. He comes across as a bit…simple?…at times, but it’s more to do with his almost complete withdrawal from the world.

For some reason, his main boss, played by Robert Loggia in a role he’s probably done a thousand times before, promotes him to trainee hitman. Cosmo doesn’t seem thrilled by this, but his affectless personality means he puts up barely any resistance, and his mentor Steve (Peter Riegert) recognises a talent in the making – he’s a great shot and after a very small amount of worry over his first killing, adapts perfectly to the lifestyle and begins, sort of, to enjoy it.

Interspersed with his trips to yoga (which must be miracle work, given how much it helps him with his killing anxiety) and his budding romance with his instructor, played by Kimberley Williams-Paisley, he’s out and about killing people for his mob boss, and the “main” plot of the film rumbles along. Anyone who’s seen one of these films before knows there’s going to be double-crosses, unusual job requests and betrayals.

The director of this film is Wallace Wolodarsky, better known to most as one of the original producers and writers for The Simpsons. He’s worked on and off since then, including scripts for “The Rocker” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”, but aside from this and whoops-we-need-to-dress-as-women-to-go-to-college movie “Sorority Boys”, he’s not directed much, and nothing at all in the last decade. Which is a shame, because this film is, while not necessarily amazing, certainly the film of a director with something interesting to say.

I think there’s a good reason this film has remained under the radar, though. Priestley’s performance is very odd – he varies from a blank slate to educationally subnormal to some sort of autism to lovesick…I can sort of see what he’s going for, but I don’t think he nails it. It’s certainly an interesting choice for director and actor, but I can’t help but feel a few tweaks would have worked wonders. Garofalo, who looks set to have some sort of pivotal role, just departs halfway through, as if edited out. But Peter Riegert, as the grizzled veteran, is note-perfect, as is Loggia (but that’s no surprise).

There’s lots of lovely but unobtrusive camerawork in this, and the flat boring expanse of Anytown, USA is well captured, as are the curiously empty homes of Cosmo and Steve. Care has been taken making this film, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s much of anything. Cosmo’s arc is really shallow and there’s a feeling of unreality over all the proceedings that takes you too far out of it, like you expect everyone to wink to the camera after they’ve been murdered. I can’t help but feel I’m doing a poor job of explaining to you why this film is a fascinating failure, but it’s like somewhere down deep in the workings of the film, a little cog doesn’t quite fit, making everything else skewed.

I’d definitely recommend it though. It deserves talking of in the same conversation as those other 90s films, and while it’s not perfect, neither were they (for self-consciously trying to start its own cult, it’s several steps below “Things To Do In Denver…”, for example).

I couldn't find any screengrabs, so have this GIS for "cold blooded"

I couldn’t find any screengrabs, so have this GIS for “cold blooded”