Director: Ariel Vroman
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, Stephen Dorff
Written by: Morgan Land, Ariel Vroman, (based on the book The Iceman: The True story of A Cold-Hearted Killer) Anthony Bruno and (based on the documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With A Killer) Jim Thebaut
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 7th June 2013
Gangster films are nineteen to the dozen so to make them stand out in the crowd they have to offer something unique or have something different to say. If it wasn’t for Michael Shannon, The Iceman would be a rather dull and unimpressive affair indeed.
Based on the true story of Robert Kuklinski, a gentle giant of a man with a cold, dead stare and even colder attitude to death. First seen on a date with Deborah Pellicotti, he later protects her honour by killing the man who slandered her name. Robbie later marries Debbie and finds employment distributing porn movies. When mob boss Ray Demeo closes the plant, he hires Kuklinski as a hit man, a job he is very good at but hides from his family, who he loves so much and is willing to do anything for. Living a rich and near perfect life, his family believing he is involved in financial dealings, the two worlds are slowly colliding when trouble within the corporation means that Robbie has to go it alone with a fellow hitman, aptly named Mr Freezy, for his means of transport is an ice cream van. Can Robbie trust anyone and can he protect his family from his secret life.
The major problem with Ariel Vroman’s film is that it offers nothing new to an already saturated genre. We’ve visited this world so often and in far better structured features. It’s just not good enough to deliver a film about a real life contract killer, trying to emulate the work of Scorsese or Coppola.
So the film moves along at a reasonable pace, with often brutal and graphically violent murders, interspersed with scenes of Kukliski’s family life, as he and Deborah live the good life from his ill-gotten gain, without Debbie having a clue how he got to be so rich. Not too dissimilar to that of Henry Hill in Goodfellas.
What doesn’t help matters is that Ray Demeo is played by Henry hill himself, Ray Liotta. Going through the mob boss playbook, it would be nice to see Liotta cast as something other than a mobster or villain. I am sure he is a good enough actor to play comedy. The film is full of performances from actors hidden by long hair and droopy moustaches. Captain America himself, Chris Evans plays Mr Freezy, with his hippy look and dark sunglasses, it does take some time to recognise him. Friends star David Schwimmer is even harder as Liotta’s right-hand man, Josh Rosenthal, who causes most of the problems by his misjudged actions within the corporation.
It’s nice to see Winona Ryder given a lead role, after years trying to shake off her troubled, earlier life. She still has that naive, childlike look but she is such a strong actress that she can deliver a good performance, even if her role as Deborah is rather underwritten and doesn’t really push her to her limits. Maybe this is the comeback she really needs and deserves.
The real star of this film is the magnificent Shannon. Standing tall (over 6 foot) he has a presence on screen that demands your attention. That cold, cold stare is enough to make any man tremble. He isn’t just playing Kuklinski. He IS Kuklinski. One of the most exciting screen actors around, this is a real palette wetter for his role as General Zod in the new Superman movie, Man Of Steel. The film wouldn’t be half as exciting or interesting if it wasn’t for Shannon. It is the main reason to see it.
The Iceman’s story is an interesting one but it’s delivery is the thing that makes it suffer. It’s hard to see how else it could be told but without Shannon, this would be a film that is instantly forgettable. With Shannon, his staring eyes are enough to make you have nightmares. A two star movie with a five star performance.