Dave’s Review: The Iceman

Letter Grade:

The Good:

Amazing acting performance by Michael Shannon
Reminiscent of 70's cinema
Fascinating character study

The Bad:

Subject matter is not for everyone

Cast & Crew:

Writer: Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen
Director: Ariel Vromen
Stars: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer (That's right, David Schwimmer...in a mob/hitman movie...)

Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content

Co-Writer and Director Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman tells the real life story of mob hitman (and all around psychopath) Richard Kuklinski (played chillingly by Michael Shannon). Kuklinski, who was apparently a generally unstable person and murderer prior to getting involved with the mob, is hired by a New Jersey crime boss (Ray Liotta) to do their dirty work…and he’s good at it. Over the course of 20+ years Kuklinski kills over 100 people before finally being apprehended by the authorities. During this time Kuklinski gets married , has two daughters, a lucrative (and fictitous) investing job and a successful family life in the suburbs of New Jersey. When Kuklinski was captured in 1986 his wife (Winona Ryder) and family had no idea that he had been a ruthless killer for the past 20 years. This film not only tells the story of Kuklinski’s mob killings (which would have been good enough for me…but i’m a little twisted) but also deals with his constant (successful) battle to hide the killer inside of him and maintain the fragile family life that he has established despite his anti-social and psychotic tendencies.

This movie is really less of a mob movie or crime thriller than it is a character study about someone who was involved in the mob and crime scene of the time. It never really delves too deep into the politics and inner workings of the mob, or even why Kuklinscki is killing the people he kills. It’s a movie about Kuklinski and his psychosis and drive to kill, all while ostensibly leading a normal and relatively well adjusted life.

When Travis Bickle, the mentally unstable and socially awkward “hero” of 1976’s Taxi Driver said,

“All the animals come out at night – whores, …dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

he was talking about the characters in this movie. The mob, the hitmen, the drug dealers, the pornographers are all a part of a seedy underworld that exists beneath the idealic surface of a post-WWII America whose confidence and spirit have been shattered by political assassinations, an unnecessary war, and an impeached President. Set around the same time period (1964-1984) in New Jersey/New York, this movie fits so well into the trashy world of “Taxi Driver” that it could almost be seen as a companion piece to the cinema classic, a closer look at one of the people that Travis Bickle would have so vehemently despised. If you like 1970’s era/style mob/crime classics like “Taxi Driver” (or Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, Zodiac, The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter), go see this movie.

This film may also feature the best acting performance of Michael Shannon’s career. Holy Crap. How amazing is this guy? Don’t know who Michael Shannon is? Don’t think he’s amazing? Go see this movie. His performance will blow you away. There is something about Shannon as an actor (and maybe a person in general…I don’t know. I don’t know him personally…) that just seems a little creepy, which really shines in a role like this where he is supposed to be just inches away from snapping at any moment. Shannon is able to convincingly portray both the ice cold, meticulous mob hitman and the emotionally stunted, primally driven and out of control serial killer. Nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009 for his portrayal of a mentally disturbed family friend in Revolutionary Road (which is a good, but mind-blowingly depressing movie), Shannon proves in this role that his acting nom (that’s what us movie nerds call nominations…I know…I have a problem…) was no fluke. He’s every bit as good as a younger Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver” or Raging Bull. In fact there are several times during the movie that Shannon’s performance so directly emulates De Niro that it’s hard to ignore. Shannon isn’t doing a De Niro impression (like Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York) per se but more so is mimicking his acting style and sensibilities After discovering that his lifestyle has caused direct harm to a member of his family (the only thing he seems to actually care about in life) Kuklinski’s anger and rage boils over in a moment of frustration in a hospital elevator. He screams. He yells. He punches walls. It’s all very reminiscent of De Niro’s Jake La Motta in “Raging Bull.” I’ll say it again. I was really blown away by Shannon’s performance in this movie. I’m not sure his looks and style will ever lend themselves to being a bigtime Hollywood leading man, but roles like this are absolutely perfect for him.

Ray Liotta was good, in so much as he seems to be playing an extension of his Goodfellas mobster role. It was well acted but perhaps not much of a stretch for the veteren actor. In general the supporting cast, including Winona Ryder and Chris Evans, was solid. James Franco shows up about half way through the movie and does a typical James Franco, overacting job…I’m generally not a huge fan of Franco, but his role was so minor that it wasn’t too big of a distraction. And then there is David Schwimmer…that’s right…Ross from Friends…what the hell was he doing in this movie? I’m sorry, I know he’s a real actor and has probably found some very hard times after being typecast from his years starring in “Friends”, but he did not seem to fit in this movie. Every time I saw him on screen sporting his stupid 70’s facial hair, I was constantly reminded of the episode where Ross is stood up for Prom (c’mon, you know the episode)… which is totally unfair for him as an actor, but that’s just the way it is. He should probably just look for work behind the camera. I suppose it could be worse, he could be Matthew Perry…how many shows have they pulled out from underneath that guy? He just can’t catch a break…anyhow…off topic.

Given the subject matter, this film is obviously violent, but I suppose not overly so considering that the bulk of the plot is about contract killing. There are a few scenes that may be a little over the top for some, but honestly I thought for the most part it was fairly subdued considering the potential for a modern ultra-violent style for the subject matter.

In the end I’d give this movie a solid B, almost entirely for the acting. Let’s be honest, you’ll know based on the description if this is your type of movie. If it sounds like your type of movie, it is absolutely a must see. If you are interested in watching a great acting performance, it’s a must see. If you are a bit squeamish and not as messed up as I am (I’ll probably buy this movie), you may skip it without having to worry about missing a movie people will be talking about all summer. It’s likely to fly under most people’s radars.

Dave Bernard (5 Posts)

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