Hitman or Shitman?
Director: Ariel Vromen
Stars: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans
Running time: 105 minutes
I love hitmen. I don’t mean real life ones, I’m talking about movie ones. No offence of course to real life assassins, I appreciate you’re doing a tough job in a rough economy so no hard feelings, ok? What makes movie killers like this interesting is the questions of how and why someone would get into this line of work. The Iceman attempts to answer these questions but fails to shed a lot of light on the subject at hand. And I promise this review will contain no ice related puns.
The Iceman tells the true story of Richard Kuklinski played by the excellent Michael Shannon, a loving family man who just happened to be a contract killer for the mob with a purported one hundred career kills. Set across a period of twenty years between 1965 and 1985 we see how young Richie gets involved and how his working life came to an end.
It’s obvious from the start that the makers of the film have been inspired by movies like Goodfellas or Scarface. This is a another period piece about the illegal pursuit of the American dream and the traps that come with it. But where those classic flicks succeed with style and pathos, The Iceman just ambles along telling what should be a fascinating tale in an incredibly uninspired way.
Things start off well with Kuklinski a worker in a porn theatre, going on his first date with his future wife Deborah (Winona ‘I’d like to’ Ryder). Here we see a quiet, reserved, shy man who obviously is already in love with his date. This is where the best element of the movie becomes apparent and that is in the performance of Michael Shannon as Kuklinski. Where other actors would have created a boring character from the limited dialogue Kuklinksi has, Shannon manages to make him enigmatic and interesting. He barely moves any of the features on his big, strange head but what’s going on in there is always apparent.
It’s the performance that keeps you watching as the story falls into a familiar pattern of murders and mafia infighting. There isn’t much to care about in terms of supporting characters with Ray Liotta playing his usual mob guy and Chris Evans as an ice cream truck driving hitman named Freezy. You never become invested in this part of the plot and how it either does or doesn’t affect Kuklinski. The most interesting thread is that of his family life but this is pushed to the background in favour of the shooting and shouting.
What could have been an excellent study of the mind of someone who has obvious psychological issues and the ideal job for someone like him becomes a standard gangster flick with New Jersey mobsters plotting against each other. Shannon’s performance and the moments of inventive violence save it from being a dud meaning it’s worth watching but you should lower your expectations accordingly. The Iceman is a lot like the man it portrays – quiet, mysterious, and ultimately hard to warm to. Is that an ice pun? Dammit, so close!
Have you seen The Iceman? Are you a hitman? Who’s your favourite iceman?