The Iceman is the story of infamous contract killer Richard Kuklinski, who in his career reportedly killed upwards of 150 people until his arrest in 1986. The story begins as Kuklinski, played by Michael Shannon, is plucked from his safe, yet disgraceful, job as a pornography film dubbing technician to become the hired gun for mob boss Roy Demeo, played by Ray Liotta.
Demeo recognized Kuklinski’s lack of fear and empathy and put it to the test by handing him a gun and telling him to kill a random beggar, a murder he commits without hesitation. Kuklinski ends up marrying the love of his life, played by Winona Ryder, has two daughters, and keeps his true profession a secret for years. Along the way, he gets into trouble with Demeo, and must work with a fellow hitman, played by an almost unrecognizable Chris Evans, in order to continue killing to stave off his insufferable violent outbursts.
The film certainly has an air of authenticity and truth to it that can be attributed to superb production design, makeup, and costume design, all of which really transported the audience into the period of the film. Shannon puts on one of the most intense and unapologetic performances of his career, continuing to be one of Hollywood’s greatest underground actors (and to think this year marks the 20th anniversary of his feature debut Groundhog Day). The acting all around is impeccable, including Liotta in his typecast Mafioso role, David Schwimmer as one of his ill-fated lackeys, and Ryder as Kuklinski’s happily oblivious wife.
However, just as Kuklinski’s killings went by without consequence for most of his life, they go by without consequence in the film as well. It seems that every ten minutes another character is killed. But for what? To show off Kuklinski’s creativity? To show the breadth of his destruction? The film succeeds as a character study and not a traditional mafia movie. It’s a look into the psyche of a killer, but doesn’t mention any investigation until it’s too late.
The Iceman works for what it’s trying to accomplish: an honest portrayal of the cold, dark tragedy that is Kuklinski’s demise entirely from his perspective. Unfortunately, despite its impeccable design, its authenticity to its main character causes the film to lack the emotionality and relatability that would truly leave an impact on its viewer.
In theaters, May 3rd. Watch the trailer here.