The Iceman

The Iceman (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) dubs pornographic films for a living when he meets Deb (Winona Ryder), his future spouse. Wanting to provide more for his family, he accepts an invitation to come work with a mob boss (Ray Liotta). Kuklinski’s job involves collecting debts, sending messages, and silencing whoever needs to be executed. Meanwhile, Kuklinski’s family is led to believe that his highly profitable career is in currency exchange.

“The Iceman,” based on the screenplay by Ariel Vromen and Morgan Land, is an interesting look at a story of a real-life man who is believed to have killed more than a hundred people but was only convicted for three murders. Casting Shannon to play the title role elevates the picture because he is able to exude a quiet menace from the moment we lay eyes on him until he is in a jail cell and is asked by an unseen man if he regrets anything from his past. But the film disappoints a little. It spends too much time informing us about his role in the mob. There are not enough scenes that details his methods of killing.

Shannon is the type of actor who can play a character and entertain without saying a word. His performance is most compelling when a person insults or threatens those who are important to the notorious killer—mainly his family—and we feel him thinking: Is it worth slashing the throat of the man in front of him? What is the best way to kill this man—shooting him in the gut several times or a quick shot to the head? Shannon’s stature communicates a lot, too. Notice when he is standing up the character is more likely to lose his temper. When he is sitting down—with his family, friends, or superior—it is almost a way to suppress his compulsions.

The timing of the director, Ariel Vromen, such as when to move the camera and which angle to shoot from, complements Shannon’s acting style. Before a violent outburst, there is almost always an unsettling patient pause. It is suspenseful in that we anticipate to hear or see an explosion. Is Kuklinski going to explode in the next second? Ten seconds from now? Or is he going to be wait for a better, cleaner opportunity? If the timing were off from behind the camera, it would not have worked.

Brief appearances by well-known performers (Stephen Dorff, James Franco) are solidly acted. However, I would have preferred if unknown faces were cast instead. Familiar faces almost take away the realism the picture has consistently worked to establish. At one point, it starts to feel like a parade of actors outperforming the other. These scenes are saved by Shannon—he plays it smaller as if serving to drain away the bright colors.

While the most enthralling scenes involve Kuklinski going after people as if he were a bull targeting a capote de brega, “The Iceman” would have been a better picture if it had presented more of the man’s methods. How did he prepare physically and mentally before a kill? What kind of knives, guns, or ropes did he use? How did he clean up? It does not give us a chance to determine how efficient he is exactly. And for someone who has allegedly killed over a hundred people in cold blood, details as such are necessary.

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