A few years back, before we had kids, my wife and I spent some time at her parents’ house in New Hampshire and I happened to see one of HBO’s documentaries on mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. I was instantly captivated by his seemingly honest, simple and concise recollection of over a hundred murders, some of which he was paid to commit and others that came as a result of simple misunderstandings or perceived insults from random people. After getting caught by police, he spoke to plenty of people about what he did and why and those people have written books and made documentaries. The Iceman by director Ariel Vromen is a dramatic retelling of some of those events plus healthy doses of fiction thrown in for added drama.
Basically, Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) grew up in an abusive family that eventually lead him down a life of violence and crime. Before long he found himself married to Deborah (Winona Ryder), but also working for mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) who made him an enforcer and hitman. As his life progressed, Kuklinski branched out working for other people, with a fellow killer Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans), knocked off a few of his friends and eventually got caught by the cops.
In addition to being somewhat familiar with the film’s subject, I was also very interested in this cast. Shannon, who I’ve only ever seen as Zod in Man Of Steel, turned out to be positively captivating. I haven’t gone back and looked at the tapes, but his performance made my brain buzz with memories of that viewing experience. On top of that, he also has a real quiet menace to him that makes him scarier than an alien overlord. Captain America himself Evans also stars in the film as a fellow killer who’s a bit looser and crazier. Frankly, the scenes they were in together were delightful in a creepy way.
As far as the actual story goes, it’s pretty solid, though ends abruptly. I guess that’s how it works in real life sometimes, but after reading about Kuklinksi on Wikipedia, I found out about this huge sting operation in the works that was eventually sprung on him. This film is completely told from his perspective (I’m fairly sure there aren’t any scenes where he’s not present, but can’t be positive) so it would make sense that he wouldn’t know, but it felt like a bit of a let down.
And you can’t completely chalk that up to the whole “life is like that sometimes” idea because they definitely made changes to his story for the film. In the movie, his first hit for Demeo is a bum. In real life it was apparently a guy walking his dog. Does that change matter? Not when it comes to showing what they’re trying to show about these characters, but there’s also something to be said about sticking with the facts if the point is to show how complex this guy’s life was. I mean, being a sociopath is one thing, we see it all the time, but to be one with a wife and kids who have NO CLUE what he does is a lot more interesting. Then again, I’m always more scared by the idea of the maniac who blends into the crowd than the one holed up in his house.
At the end of the day, The Iceman is an interesting character study. Shannon and the rest of the cast pull their weight and give solid performances that seem to capture these real life people. While some of it might play off like plenty of other mobster movies, this one benefits from the real life aspects incorporated into the proceedings.