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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Iceman Movie Review

Richard Leonard "The Iceman" Kuklinski was a self-professed serial killer who joined the Mob as a contract killer because the money was good. He was doing it for free so why not earn a living doing what you are good at. Kuklinski was 6'4" tall and tipped the scales around 300 pounds. He was a big man and an imposing figure.

In 1991, and then again in 2001, Kuklinski was interviewed for HBO documentaries. In both of these series of interviews Kuklinski smiles while retelling his murderous exploits. I have never seen a better representation of a sociopath. He is without remorse and any feelings at all. Search for it on YouTube as these interviews are available for viewing.

Michael Shannon has taken the role of Kuklinski in Ariel Vromen's "The Iceman". Shannon breathes life into Kuklinski, no easy feat since no sense of humanity as we know it ever existed in the real Kuklinski. Shannon is Kuklinski as we might imagine him if he had been secretly videotaped. The problem is that for all of Shannon's efforts and the efforts of Chris Evans as Mr. Freezy, another contract killer, "The Iceman" falls a tad flat.

Kuklinski leads two very distinct and separate lives. In one, he is a cold-blooded killer who kills for almost no reason, leading to his being hired by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta). DeMeo is a mobster who sees in Kuklinski the perfect hit-man. Kuklinski feels absolutely nothing when he draws a killing assignment. Early on, DeMeo and Kuklinski are sitting in the back of a car when a beggar taps on the window of the car asking for a handout.

When the beggar walks away, DeMeo hands Kuklinski a gun and tells him to kill the beggar. It's an audition. Kuklinski thinks about it for a few seconds before exiting the car. Kuklinski calmly walks over to the where the beggar is sitting and shares a cigarette with him. A minute later Kuklinski takes out the gun and blows the guy's brains out. He then walks back to the car and gets back in, not a hint of emotion on his face. The message is clear. He is a perfect fit for his new employer and profession.

In his other life, he is a loving husband and father to two girls. He treats his wife wonderfully. He is generous, thoughtful, and is the kind of father that attends his daughter's trips to the roller rink. There are the occasional moments where some of his other personality bubbles to the surface.

In one scene, he rear-ends another car because his mind is elsewhere. The other fellow screams at him and curses out his family before speeding off. Something snaps and Kuklinski tears after him in a wild and scary car chase, before traffic intervenes, forcing him to come to his senses. His wife and daughters are terrified, but they settle down, chalking it up to a bad moment. Winona Ryder plays his wife and it is difficult to tell whether his wife was clueless in real-life or Ryder's portrayal is a little wooden.

Shannon is great as Kuklinski and Evans is every bit as good as Mr. Freezy, who spends his off hours driving an ice cream truck, where he stores his kills chopped up among the ice cream. Aside from those two there is a precipitous drop-off to every other facet of the film. The rest of the acting is okay and the direction is similarly okay without being special. What we are left with is an acting class with two all-stars. This alone makes the whole thing worth it to me but all of its other shortcomings prevents "The Iceman" from being anything more. This Iceman cometh but he does not fully deliver.

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