Director: Ariel Vromen.
Screenplay: Ariel Vromen, Morgan Land.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco, Stephen Dorff, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O’Nan, Danny A. Abeckaser, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherill.
What more can be said about the acting chops of Michael Shannon? Despite being a household name now, he’s still happy to deliver supporting roles in the likes of “Mud” and “Man of Steel” while managing to work within the time constraints of television with “Boardwalk Empire“. Thankfully though, he’s not adverse to the odd leading role and “The Iceman” is the type of film that allows him to fully embrace centre stage.
In the 1960’s, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) was a quiet family man, who secretly worked as a porn lab technician until the New Jersey mob that ran his employment, shut him down and persuaded him to become a contract killer. For decades, Kuklinski would kill over 100 people and gain a reputation for his cold blooded professionalism, meanwhile keeping his wife (Winona Ryder) and kids completely in the dark about where their money came from.
Based on actual events, the story of Kuklinski is quite an intriguing one. This was a man who managed to separate his work and family life for so long that he was clearly a very manipulative and dangerous sociopath.
Much like Kuklinski’s victims, though, the film seems strangely lifeless. Most mob films have you on the edge of your seat at least once throughout their running times but “The Iceman” never really manages to do that. Ariel Vromen’s direction is flat and he poorly handles the script’s leaps in time; relying on consistently changing facial hair as a narrative device. It just doesn’t work and as a genre piece, it misses a real opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the similarly themed “Donnie Brasco“.
Where the films strengths lie, are in the performances; Mafia boss Roy Demeo, is captured ferociously by Ray Liotta, who seems to be the go-to-guy for mob figures these days, and the likes of Chris Evans impresses in an almost unrecognisable role as Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge – another hitman that Kuklinski gets involved with. Added to this, are smaller roles for James Franco, Stephen Dorff and an awkwardly ponytailed and moustachioed, David Schwimmer. Ultimately, though, it’s Shannon that keeps this film afloat. Despite a fascinating character, the role is surprisingly underwritten, yet Shannon still manages to deliver a detached and menacing portrayal. Quite simply, without his presence, this would would be just another generic, colour-by-numbers, wannabe.
Good in places but ultimately, it’s restrained to the point of monotony. This is a film that has so much potential but squanders it on cliché and relies too heavily on it’s leading actor. Shannon delivers but he doesn’t really get anything back for his efforts.