The Iceman * * *

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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.

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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 clichรฉ and relies too heavily on it’s leading actor. Shannon delivers but he doesn’t really get anything back for his efforts.

Mark Walker

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44 Responses to “The Iceman * * *”

  1. One of my favourite books, and I’ve seen all the interview tapes with the real guy. Looking forward to this, even if you didnt love it! Got to love some Liotta though ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Yeah, it was okay, man. I expected much more from it, though. My original rating was 1/2 star higher but on reflection, it didn’t really excite me the way it should have. Shannon is excellent, as always, though. It’s worth it just for him.

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  2. Saw this yesterday, yet to write about it. I agree with you here the movie misses something direly and Shannon’s role severely underwritten. It had the material for an awesome drama but I suppose it was made so so that its accessible for the casual audiences as well.

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    • Spot on, man. With a biopic you expect a bit more material on the main character but this really doesn’t shed much light on him at all. I think Shannon found something in the role that wasn’t on paper, though. He brings a certain gravitas to the part and deserves the utmost credit for lifting this above a dreadfully empty film.

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  3. That’s what I’ve heard about the film and its a real shame. This really should have been great. Unfortunate.

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  4. Great review. Sounds similar to other reviews. I’ll watch it for Shannon if nothing else though.

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  5. I was looking forward to this for so many reasons – but like you, I’ve heard other people say that Shannondesreved a better vehicle for his talents. I reckon I’ll still check it out though!

    By the way, if you’re a Shannon fan then I highly recommend Bug if you aven;’t seen it (not many people did). It’s 5-6 years old and directed by William Friedkin and is crazy/brilliant – Shannon is absolutely phenomenal.

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  6. Nice work, Mark – probably one I’ll catch sometime for free when there’s nothing else to do….

    Boat Drinks!

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  7. ray brayne Says:

    Shannon’s made for this. His acting always seems non expressive to me. Very little emotion shows on his face. But here it works great. A bigger budget would have helped this film. It glossed over quite a bit. The stand out moments were, visiting his brother in prison where they recall the abuse they suffered from their father. And how delusional the brother is, thinking he’ll get out of jail with the right lawyer, though he admitted to killing a young girl. And
    as loving as he was to his family and they to him the telling moment was the blurb after his conviction saying they never saw him again. No visitors for the Iceman. The film had plenty of good scenes, you never knew what the Iceman would do next.

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    • There were many good scenes Ray and I found most of these down to Shannon’s ability to command your attention. I think he was let down by a pretty dull script, though. This film had all the makings of very fine addition to the crime genre but it never really got a handle on things. How can a film of this subject matter and fine cast not hit the right notes. I didn’t dislike it, but I expected a whole lot more.

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  8. Nice review. I think Shannon’s one of the best actors working today, but I gave this a pass when it was on theaters. I’ll probably wait when it hits DVD.

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    • I’m a big fan of Shannon myself and he doesn’t disappoint here. I wish I could say the same about the film itself, though. It’s probably best to wait for it on disc. It’s not one that too much money should be forked out on.

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  9. I’ll still see this for Shannon!

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  10. The direction leaves plenty to be desired, but the solid cast more than makes up for that. Especially Shannon, who surprisingly dials it down most of the time. Good review Mark.

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    • Couldn’t agree more Dan. The direction was rather flat and didn’t utilise the full potential of this project. Shannon, on the other hand, was excellent. But then, you don’t expect anything less when it comes to him. Cheers, man.

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  11. I grew even more impressed by Shannon every day. Now, though the grim violence of this film might be too much for me, I’m VERY curious about this one. I actually read quite a bit about Kuklinski when they first announced this project and let’s just say, glad I’ve never encountered anyone like him, hiiiih.

    Btw, did you know that Ariel Vromen (not Vorman btw) is GB’s BFF? I knew this from my days of being his groupies, ahah. There was a video of them clubbing in L.A. on Youtube. GB even starred in Vromen’s short film Jewel of Sahara (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0291277/) a bizarre movie where GB erm, shagged a camel, ahah. Oh what one wouldn’t do for a friend ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • I caught onto Shannon a good while back, Ruth, and he’s never disappointed me. It’s good to see him command a central role and he’s brilliant as Kuklinski. Unfortunately, he’s given very little to work with but he still shows his class.

      Vorman? Where the hell did I get that name from? That’s a schoolboy error that I have now corrected ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Great info on him, by the way. I had no idea that he and Butler are such good friends. I’ll have to check out that short as well. Gerry Butler ‘shagging a camel’? Haha. This I’ve got to see. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I think Shannon is one of those actors who still shone even in a less-meaty role, I think he’s so wasted in Machine Gun Preacher though. But it made me wonder if perhaps GB introduced him to his friend Vromen? Maybe that’s how he got cast. Ha..ha.. yeah, I knew you’d be intrigued by Jewel of Sahara, I think there are some clips of that on Youtube. I remember GB said at Cannes how he did this as a favor to Vromen, seriously he might owe him something big that he’s willing to do THAT scene ๐Ÿ˜€

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      • Yeah, Shannon was wasted in Machine Gun Preacher. I also had that same thought when you mentioned that GB and Vromen were friends. I made that link with Shannon.

        Still, I gotta check put you tube for that clip. What possessed GB to even get involved in that. Lol. He’s a good sport, though.

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  12. Good review here, Mark. I enjoyed this film, but most of that is thanks to Shannon. “Detached and menacing” is the absolute best way to describe his work here.

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    • Thanks a lot Alex. Shannon was definitely the highlight here, without a doubt. Otherwise the film would be rather forgettable. Such a shame, though, as it could have been brilliant.

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  13. Nice work Mark. It’s always disappointing when an actor clearly gives a great performance but is let down by a bad script or poor plotting or whatever. I might give this a watch if it comes on TV or something but I doubt I’ll actively seek it out.

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    • Cheers Chris! Yeah, I found that Shannon was let down here. His performance merited a better film. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of moments to admire but it could have been much better.

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  14. Love me some Shannon, well other than his Zod ;-(

    This is actually the first I have heard/read about this film. Gonna have to try and track it down.

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    • I haven’t seen Man of Steel yet, Adam but I will get around to it. If you love you some Shannon (as we all do) then you should enjoy him in this. It’s not a great film, though. It could have had a lot more drive to it but Shannon is worth the time alone.

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  15. Great review! I did hear before it’s fairly average but I love Shannon and Ryder, so I’m gonna give it a shot.

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  16. Chris Walker Says:

    Good review Mark. Michael Shannon is a top notch actor and a loved the comment about Ray Liotta

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    • Shannon is great Chris, as is Liotta but the film itself, is rather flat. You’d think a biopic with such an intriguing character would have a bit more excitement about it.

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  17. Disappointing to hear Mark as I was excited to see this one, I still will probably give it a go at some point down the line though, if for no other reason than the cast.

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  18. I agree with everything you’ve written. I’ll add that I was disappointed in Vroman’s portrayal of Kuklinski’s wife. We might have been able to empathize with and care about her if the film had let her matter more. It’s a shame she was so under-featured.

    One more note: I thought it an interesting choice to excise how abusive the real life Kuklinski apparently was. I think it probably served the film well, but I still think it an … Well … Interesting choice for a biopic.

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    • Hey, man. Thanks for stopping in. Always nice to hear a new voice.

      Totally agree on Kuklinski’s wife. Surely she wasn’t as much as a wallflower that the film would have you believe.

      Kuklinski himself is an interesting choice for a biopic but without Shannon’s sterling work, I would have lost interest way before I did. It doesn’t shed a lot of light on him really. What light was shed seemed to come from Shannon himself.

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      • Agreed vis a vis Shannon’s performance. It was fantastic.

        I don’t much about the real life story either, and I don’t think this movie really fills in the gaps.

        Blue Caprice, a flick with similar themes, was much better.

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      • Blue Caprice is a film I haven’t seen but I’m intrigued now. This film had all the makings of doing the business for me but I was left disappointed slightly.

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      • Like The Iceman, Blue Caprice isn’t easy to watch, but unlike The Iceman, it makes us care about a psychopath’s impact. Oh and Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond are both every bit as amazing as Shannon. Blue Caprice isn’t for everyone (how could a film about DC Snipers have mass appeal?) and it does have its own flaws, but it’s a very good film all the same.

        And agreed on The Iceman. It had potential it just failed to realize.

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      • Sounds like my kinda thing, man. Blue Caprice is now on my wish list. Thanks again.

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