Not another X-Men spin-off, it’s the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a family man turned hit man who showed so little emotion doing his dirty deeds that not even his wife and kids knew what he really did for a living. Richie carried out his guise for around 20 years, finally getting caught in 1986.
The Iceman tells his story of domesticity, deceit and death-dealing, starting in the Jersey of the mid-1960s, at a presume first date with a good girl (Winona Ryder, nice to see you again!), who’s so charmed by him, she marries him. After all, how bad can a guy who dubs Disney movies for a living be? In reality, he dupes reels of pornography … until a local mob boss (Ray Liotta, even more typecast than Shannon) hires him as a well-compensated contract killer, first testing his mettle and loyalty on a two-bit street bum.
Kuklinski demonstrates natural talent at gut-shooting, throat-slitting and noggin-whacking, all of which Israeli director/co-writer Ariel Vromen delights in depicting in brutal detail — so graphic that the scenes may keep more squeamish viewers from finishing the film. Perhaps Vromen went one bisected esophagus too far?
His other department of excess is in stunt casting. He calls upon the likes of James Franco and Stephen Dorff for one-and-done scenes that could have been cut entirely without harming the narrative. Faring far better in roles more integral to the biopic plotting are frequent film heavy Robert Davi (Die Hard), a near-unrecognizable David Schwimmer (TV’s Friends) and a truly unrecognizable Chris Evans (The Avengers‘ Captain America) as Mr. Freezy, an associate of Richie’s so named for his cover gig as an ice cream man. He’s arguably chillier than Richie, in that he has no qualms about offing women and children.
But this show belongs to Shannon and, predictably enough, he delivers his usual intensity. If there’s a downside to having the terrific actor the anchor, it’s that his presence offers no surprise — just by him showing up, we know what the character Kuklinski will show himself to be.
The Iceman is good, but never great — a crime drama that could use a bit more color. And I mean that literally, too; as I child of the 1970s, I know we had more colors than just dull brown. —Rod Lott
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• Michael Shannon interview