Over the years, Michael Shannon has proven to be a truly great actor, and his performance in The Iceman continues to prove that point. The film is based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a seemingly mild-mannered family man who secretly worked for the Mob as a ruthless contract killer. Shannon plays the lead, a man who earned the nickname “The Iceman” thanks to his cold demeanor and ability to murder anyone at the drop of a hat.
The Iceman begins with an older, disheveled Kuklinski giving a jailhouse interview, here he begins to tell his tale of murder and deceit. In flashbacks, Kuklinski meets his soon-to-be wife Deborah, played by Winona Ryder. Richie, as Deborah calls him, is awkward and doesn’t have much to say, while Deborah is shy and definitely a good girl. They seem like a bit of an odd couple, but the two are clearly into each other, thanks to the chemistry between Shannon and Ryder. To Deborah, Richie is a big teddy bear and a gentleman, but it doesn’t take long before the film reveals his true nature. Richie is a killer, plain and simple, and it doesn’t take much to set him off, as the film shows early on during a tense pool hall scene. Even knowing what is going to happen, the cold, calculating, brutal way Kuklinski carries out his brand of justice is impressive. And it doesn’t stop there.
Richie starts working for Gambino family member Roy DeMeo, played by gangster goodness Ray Liotta. But DeMeo and his crew, Josh Rosenthal (played by an unrecognizable David Schwimmer) and hothead Mickey Scicoli (played by John Ventimiglia), have to test Richie first. The test? Putting a slug into a homeless guy, just because. Richie passes this test with flying colors and begins his murder-for-hire career, while his wife thinks her husband is making a killing in currency exchange. Richie is happy, his wife is happy, DeMeo is happy. But all good things must come to an end, and come to an end they do.
Since I am not one for spoilers, I won’t go into too much detail about what goes on in the film. But I will say it is one to see for the many great performances, particularly Michael Shannon’s. One thing that I have always said about Shannon is he has an interesting face. He can show a range of emotions without going over the top: rage, despair, insanity, confusion, and love. But in The Iceman, Shannon also does something with his face that many actors cannot: absolutely nothing. As the murderous Kuklinski, Shannon’s face is a void. There is no emotion, no feeling, nothing but a blank wall holding a gun. When Richie is ready to kill someone, Shannon’s face becomes a frightening mask which makes him very believable as a brutal killer. Michael Shannon has come a long way from playing that goofy, Wrestlemania-loving kid in Groundhog Day. He is definitely an actor to watch as his career progresses.
Other notable performances in The Iceman include Ray Liotta, who’s portrayal of Roy DeMeo is his best in a long time; Winona Ryder’s Deborah is sweet and clueless and definitely loves her husband; Chris Evans as Mr. Freezy, another killer-for-hire who teams up with Richie and provides a little comic relief (and like Schwimmer, was unrecognizable); and David Schwimmer who thankfully strays far from his days as Ross Geller to play this part. Also present are Stephen Dorff as Richie’s brother Joey, who is as jumpy and high-strung as Shannon is emotionless and withdrawn, and James Franco as sleazebag Marty Freeman.
The film is directed by Ariel Vroman (Danika), who does a great job of telling Kuklinski’s story without turning it into a typical gangster film. The pacing is just right so the film felt like it isn’t moving too quickly or dragging out the storyline.
Millennium Entertainment will release The Iceman on May 3, 2013.
Photos courtesy of Millennium Entertainment