REVIEW: The Iceman (2012) March 7, 2016Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
Tags: Ariel Vromen, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Richard Kuklinski, Winona Ryder
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A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2016
True crime can provide filmmakers with fascinating stories and characters yet it can also create some difficult challenges. All too often criminals and their deeds look so banal or ordinary that scriptwriters often feel the need to spice them up and make them more “Hollywood”. In other instances real life crime might look worse than the most perverted and least plausible fiction, so filmmakers go in the opposite direction and try to make it more “normal”. One such example could be found in The Iceman, 2012 true crime biopic directed by Ariel Vromen.
While America had its more than fair share of notorious killers, in terms of quantity few matched Richard Kuklinski (1935 – 2006). In a span of few decades, accoridng to his own testimony, he murdered between 100 and 250 people, most of them as an assassin working for Mafia families in New York and New Jersey. What made Kuklinski’s story extraordinary was his double life of a dedicated family man, with wife and daughters blissfully unaware of his murderous career until the last moments. After a brief prologue in which Kuklinski (played by Michael Shannon) gives interview in prison (recreating 1993 HBO documentary Conversation with a Killer) plot begins in 1961 with Kuklinski as quiet young man on a date with his future wife Deborah (played by Winona Ryder). He tells that he works in Disney studios, while in reality, he deals in illegal pornography. This kind of activity brings unwanted attention of local mob boss Roy De Meo (played by Ray Liotta) who is nevertheless impressed by Kuklinski’s calmness during intimidation. Kuklinski passes a test during which he kills a homeless man, gets hired as a hitman and thus begins long and lucrative career during which he would partner with another killer Robert Pronge (played by Chris Evans). Two of them develop a new methods of disposing bodies, including freezing victims designed to prevent police from establishing proper time of death.
The Iceman is made with relatively small budget, but it doesn’t show on screen. Vromen was very skillfull in recreating past decades with limited resources, although most of the plot is set at night, in seedy poll halls and bars and decayed urban landscape. The general tone of the film is very grim and lightens up only in scenes featuring Kuklinski’s family, although only until his professional life starts to affect his family life with predictably destructive and frightening results. The acting is very good, especially with otherwise well-known or leading actors in short but impressive roles. That incldues Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s brother who ended in jail because of his own vicious crime, James Franco as sleazy photographer and almost unrecognisable Evans as long-haired, bespectacled and utterly cynical killer. Shannon delivers his acting goods, but it could be argued that he wasn’t the best choice for the role of Kuklinski. He has already built reputation by playing sinister, disturbed and murderous characters and another disturbed killer, even with such impressive bodycount as Kuklinski’s, doesn’t bring anything new.
The way Vromen portrays the kiler’s decades-long career also leaves something to be desired. Script often fails to establish why certain characters get killed and due to dark cinematography it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. The character of Kuklinski is too complex for filmmakers and they fail to explore its different dimensions, so there are at least three various protagonists Shannon plays – cold professional, loving family man and dangerous paranoid. The Iceman often fails to make the connection between the three, and some of the details – like Kuklinski’s self-established rule of never killing women and children – are never properly explored. Perhaps this is the story not well-fit for a medium of feature film. A documentary (which were already made) of television miniseries could have been much better.