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Review: The Iceman

June 3, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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The past decade has delivered a plethora of anti-heroes and their double-life-inducing dark passengers. That’s why a film like The Iceman and its conventional based-on-a-true-story hook would probably go by unnoticed without a high calibre actor like Michael Shannon at the centre of it all. I had the pleasure and privilege of attending an exclusive preview screening of this crime drama with its mesmerizing star joining the crowd at the end for a Q&A session. Though such an interesting and gifted artist would be worth talking to on any given chance, his presence couldn’t have been more appropriate on this occasion, providing great insight on his method and his character’s complex psyche.

The Iceman chronicles the rise and fall of contract killer Richard Kuklinski who started his gruesome activity in early 60s New York City, working for mobster Roy Demeo, smoothly played by genre veteran Ray Liotta. Richie’s killer gene, however, is alive and kicking way before he turns it into his profession. The film’s opening sets it all up: Richie has his first date with future wife Deborah (a solid come back by Winona Rider) where he plays a perfect gentleman and shows his tender side. But later on that night, a pool table game turns into an altercation that Richie seems to handle dismissively until he slits someone’s throat in an alley, as if it was routine. When Richie bumps into Roy Demeo through his porn films bootlegging, the mobster is hit by Richie’s cold-blooded calmness in executing his kills and offers him a job to take care of “his business”.

Richie doesn’t hesitate and grabs the opportunity to earn a living and support his upcoming family doing what he does best. And so he embarks on a deceitful life with his wife and daughters believing him to be a finance man while he commits countless murders on commission. That’s at least until he leaves a teenage girl behind as potential witness at a murder scene, since he doesn’t touch women and children. When Demeo puts him on hold, Richie joins forces with another contract killer, Mr. Freezy, superbly played by an almost unrecognizable Chris Evans. They cover their tracks freezing corpses and chopping them off, ripping off the signature mark of a notorious serial killer on the loose, named “the iceman” by the media. But Freezy works for other mobsters and Demeo inevitably finds out, threatening Richie’s family and igniting the downfall of Richie’s double life.

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Director Ariel Vromen leads the outstanding cast with confidence, paying homage to Goodfellas and Zodiac and surely doesn’t spare attention to detail in the production design of a period drama that spans two decades. But it’s Shannon’s brave descent into deep darkness that takes the film to another level. The brilliant actor confesses that while watching Kuklinski’s taped interviews in prison he was mostly interested in the mundane in order to truly understand him. Midway through the film, a brief flashback shows Richard’s filled-with-abuse childhood, suggesting the inevitable reflection upon the importance of our upbringing. But in the framing device that re-enacts the prison interviews and bookends the story, Kuklinski admits he’s only sorry for hurting his family but has no regrets about having killed over a hundred people. This stirs the debate on the kind of monsters that are given birth in this society and Shannon masterfully delivers its contradictions with unique intensity.

Francesco Cerniglia

The Iceman is released in UK cinemas this Friday 7th June.