The Iceman, starring Michael Shannon, recounts the true events surrounding notorious mob hitman Richard Kuklinski and his career of killing during the 1980’s. With a reported 100 contract kills under his belt, Kuklinski managed to keep his profession a secret from his loving family and friends. With a trajectory that begins humbly enough as a grunt in a low level porn scam by mob boss Roy Demeo (played well by the always sinister Ray Liotta), peaks at the height of doing mob hits for Demeo to great monetary gain and ends with paranoia, more killing and eventual incarceration, Michael Shannon shows the duplicitous life of a killer and a family man that truly engages in the responsibilities of both roles.
As both a native son of New Jersey and an appreciator of a good gangster flick, my skeptic’s eye definitely gives turn when presented with another “based on true events” gangster tale from the Garden State. Truthfully, the same sigh of exasperation that escapes my lips when I get ready to watch one is also the same breath that catches and hopes, ever so briefly, that this one is going to be one of the good ones, one with strong jawlines, quotable dialogue, despicable characters, muffled gunshots and sweet tragedy. Like listening to a favorite song that you’ve heard a thousand times, a good gangster flick will have all of the notes that you love to hear. The trick is to make it look like something that you haven’t seen yet; to twist and turn ever so slightly so as not to upset the melody that you love, all while still sounding fresh and new.
The Iceman succeeds in accomplishing all of this. The subtleties and the textures of Kuklinski’s plight are both familiar and new. Boasting a host of talented actors (proving yet again that there are no small roles…) it isn’t hard to see which star shines the brightest. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Kuklinski is what holds this movie together and elevates it past just another New Jersey gangster flick, becoming the anti-hero and the villain that is so crucial for this movie to work. He manages to emote the stony-faced detachment as well as the concerned father and husband equally well, connecting with the humanity and innocence of both situations. It’s captivating to watch and is the heart of this movie.
Overall, The Iceman is a worthy movie for fans of the genre. With a well constructed cast and a stellar performance by Shannon, The Iceman is one of those movies that may not have you guessing, but will definitely have your attention.
The Iceman opens today at the Ritz East.