"The Iceman" Throwback Review
The distribution team and the creative team behind The Iceman must have had different views on what the film was. The distributors must have seen a more prestige picture, hence the Venice and Toronto festival screenings along with a limited theatrical release. The creators, on the other hand, saw this as a mid-level gangster-thriller that was more for general audiences than festival crowds. This difference probably led to the film following into obscurity quickly. A silver lining to that previous statement is that this film could now be considered a hidden gem for fans of straight-forward entertaining gangster films.
The film tells the violent middle life of Richard Kuklinski aka “The Iceman”(Michael Shannon), a hitman for the mob who is estimated to have killed between 100-250 people in New York from the 60s to 80s. Richard is a devoted family man, especially to his loyal wife Deborah (Winona Ryder). He never lets his family know what he really does, hiding the truth behind lies about working for banks and dubbing Disney films.
Richard is good at what he does, which initially leads him to work for mob boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta). After years of working for Demeo, Richard is forced out and teams up with fellow hitman “Mr. Freezy” (Chris Evans). Together they make a great pair as Richard does the hits and Freezy dumps the bodies. Eventually, Richard’s job takes hold of his life, turning everything he loves upside down and against him.
The Iceman never presents itself as a prestige gangster film like Goodfellas. The director and crew know they are making an ordinary film that is purely for entertainment.
However, just because this is for entertainment doesn’t mean it’s is perfect. The overall plot is handled rather poorly as some characters don’t get enough time to make themselves unique. Ray Liotta’s storyline is never completed and is left on a bad note. James Franco pops up for about three minutes in a subplot that feels too forced into revealing Richard’s motivations.
The Iceman is also strife with historical inaccuracies. Liberties must be taken when adapting real life, but this film takes it a step too far. Richard’s true past and violent relationship with his wife are scrubbed for a version that is more cinematically useable. Anybody familiar with the real story of Kuklinski will most likely not enjoy this film.
The camera work by Bobby Bukowski gives the film a documentary look. Even though this is a biopic, we never get that feeling. Darkness is always on the edge of the frame as we watch every moment with constant fear. Tension is always present as each character is always in danger of being killed.
Michael Shannon is brilliant again as one of America’s most infamous killers. Shannon uses his natural psychotic looks to blend in perfectly. He also uses his rage and stone cold face to create a feeling of fear and mystery around Richard.
Winona Ryder gives one of her better performances as the oblivious wife that cares too much. She’s in over her head, but she doesn't realize it until it’s too late.
Chris Evans is almost unrecognizable behind long hair and facial hair. He does an acceptable job as a killer that gets almost too much pleasure from his work.
Finally, Ray Liotta keeps his streak of supporting roles going. He just does an alright job as he plays the stereotypical mob boss. He doesn’t add anything new and mostly spouts the same lines we’ve heard in every other gangster film.
If you’re coming into this film expecting a high-grade gangster film, you’re going to be disappointed. This film is for the audience that enjoys linear action and straightforward storytelling. Boasting one of Michael Shannon’s best performances, The Iceman is an acceptable and entertaining film that doesn’t take itself, or history, too seriously.