That “bank job” daddy gets all the big bucks from? Yeah, it’s really just him slaying mobsters.
Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is a family-man that loves his wife (Winona Ryder) and his two daughters and wants to support them in any way that he can. His original job, dubbing audio porn, even though he tells his closest family members that they’re “cartoons”, gets run-down by powerful mob moss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta). Demeo, however, senses some sort of potential in this tall, quiet, and scary-looking man. So, he puts him to work where he becomes a contract killer that gets rid of people for these powerful mob families, and eventually starts working with a fellow hitman (Chris Evans). However, once the reward gets bigger, so does the risk, and this is where Kuklinski finds himself coming up short, in deals that should have been made a long, long time ago and done a lot cleaner as well.
After seeing this movie, I did myself a little research on who Richard Kuklinski really was, and all I have to say is: Holy crap. Not only did the guy work for the mob and do their dirty-work, but he killed from about 100 to 250 people. If that’s not a sign of a cold-hearted, sick, sadistic mofo, I don’t know what is! But that’s the whole point of this movie. Yes, even though it does understand that he was an unlikable dude who killed people for a living, it doesn’t shy away from showing as just that, but with a small ounce of humanity; that small ounce being that he loves his family, and doesn’t kill women or children. It’s nothing new or original that we haven’t seen before, but most of what we see here is true and it works in the movie’s favor.
Also, the movie should be commended for never allowing Kulkinski himself to come off as a forgiving, lovely soul. He may have had traits to his character that made him an alright guy, but overall, he’s a pretty disgusting man. He killed people, did it for money, gave that money to his family, but in return, also put their lives in danger as well. His heart may be in the right place, but his brain wasn’t and that’s only one of the very few mistakes the guy makes. However, as few as they may be, they’re still mistakes and he paid for them. Big time.
But enough of my mugging, on with the movie. What worked with this movie was that yes, even though it’s about a despicable space of human-flesh, the movie never asks us for sympathy for him, or anybody else around him. We’re supposed to make up our own minds on who’s a good person, and who isn’t. Sometimes the result don’t come as cut-and-dry as in some other cases, from some other movies, but that’s what made this more of a compelling watch. You never know what’s really going on beneath the surface of these characters, what they’re going to pull off next, why, and how. Even if you do know how it ends and you can make up your own conclusions about what happens to some of these character-figures portrayed in the movie, it still grips you and has you for a full-on ride.
Problem is, it’s not that the real-life story itself is as conventional as it comes, it’s just the movie itself. The only way this movie can differentiate itself from many of the other mobster movies out there is that it’s about a hitman, front-and-center, and shows him for all that he is, without any strings attached. Other than that, everything that happens in this movie, from the murders, to the drug-deals, to the hold-ups, and even to the discrete, business meetings in porno theaters; have all but been pretty much done to death by now, and most likely done even better, in far more original and thrilling movies. Not to say that this movie isn’t something that you could watch and not get involved with, it’s just that there’s nothing here really separating itself from the rest of the clan of dark, gritty, mobster movies that have a lot of violence, and a lot of cuss-words.
That said, the movie mainly benefits from Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, and does everything in his will-power to make this character work. He succeeds, and thankfully, keeps this movie moving along whenever seems to be slowing down a bit too much for it’s own good. Shannon is the type of actor who’s been churning out works of perfection for the longest while, that it shouldn’t be a surprise how great he is here as Kulkinski, but once again, the dude shows us that he can handle any piece of material, as long as it’s weighty and dramatic enough for him to act his ass off with. Instead of going for the full-blown, crazy-act that we all know Michael Shannon for, the man surprisingly keeps it dialed-down, where we see more brooding from him here, than we ever have before. Take for instance the scene where Ray Liotta holds a gun up to his head. Any movie that features that scene alone, should automatically scary any actor on the opposite-end, but not Shannon. The man does not flinch, he barely blinks, and he doesn’t show any signs of fear in his soul; he just lets it all happen because he himself, is a bad person, he knows it, and doesn’t care what happens. That scene may have been the most memorable for many reasons, but the main one being that Shannon pulls out every emotion within that character that we need to know, in a short and lean 5 minutes.
What an actor that Michael Shannon. What a freakin’ actor!
Speaking of Ray Liotta, even though the guy’s playing the same role we’ve seen him play a hundred-and-fifty times by now, the guy still owns it as the powerful mob boss that takes Kulkinski in first and foremost, Roy Demeo. The two who are actually stretching their acting-muscles here, Winona Ryder and a nearly-unrecognizable Chris Evans, do very-well with their performances and show that they can for it all, even when they have to play it back and go for smaller, shorter stuff in these indies. Especially Ryder, who gives us the character of a wife who’s practically left in the dark about what her hubby does for money and support, but doesn’t seem at all stupid or idiotic in any way. It seems like she knows what’s really cooking, but at the same time, you can’t be too sure because she doesn’t let too much on about her mind, just enough to have us as curious as she is. Nice to see her finally getting more acting-roles as of late, as it’s a shame that the only reason she fell down the ladder was because of the little “stealing-mishap”. Come on, people! It was over a decade ago! Learn, live, and forgive!
Consensus: Everything that happens in The Iceman, is everything you’d expect to see from another crime-drama of it’s kind, but what separates it from the rest of the pack is Michael Shannon’s powerful performance in the lead, one that doesn’t ask for our sympathy, but gives us a person who was real and as compelling as they got.
7 / 10 = Rental!!