Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Iceman

Copyright: Millennium Films
This review will be mostly about Michael Shannon, because this movie is almost entirely about him. His acting is a skill honed to perfection, and it clear in every second he spends onscreen. Every single look, posture or a pause between his sentences speaks for itself about Richard Kuklinski, a ruthless contract killer from New Jersey. The Iceman begins when young Richard meet his future wife for coffee in the sixties. In that point in his life, he is only a small-time employer in a porn film lab owned and operated by the mob. Because of the violent reputation he acquired in the dingy pool halls of Jersey City, a chance meet with a mob underboss becomes an opportunity for a career change. He soon becomes known as the Iceman.

Without Shannon, the director Ariel Vromen would be left with a generic mafia movie script. The story covers almost three decades and has a lot of supporting characters we don’t get to know before they get murdered. Instead of placing Kuklinski in a fixed point, from where the audience could travel back in flashbacks, Vromen tells his story by flashing a light on the hitman’s life from year to year. Thanks to of this vanilla approach we see Kuklinski getting older and witness how he changes the style of his haircut and the matching sideburns-mustache-beard combo, but see very little of how he became a calculated monster with a soft touch for his family.

It seems to me that Vromen noticed this problem in one point, and tried to fix it with a few seconds long flashback to his childhood, and the short episode where Kuklinski talks to his brother who is serving a long prison sentence. This didn’t do it for me, and still seems like a wasted opportunity. Instead of a look inside of a special kind of killer, we got Goodfellas made for TV with an accent on murders. Even Ray Liotta is present in the cast as a mob boss!

But Shannon’s talent saves the day. The man is obviously incapable of failing as an actor, and every one of his characters is memorable in some way. In recent years, even his role as the southern diver slacker Galen in the movie Mud made an impression on me. As the Iceman he has the liberty to go all out and show us in real-time what Vromen and the writers failed to do.

He commits murder with his eyes, with the tone of his voice. He is simply made for killing, and it’s what he does. The only missing element in the Kuklinski puzzle is his adoration for his wife and daughters. Because of them (or better said, thanks to them), he never crosses the line and becomes a full sociopath, devoid of feelings towards other people, in spite of the fact that he killed over 100 human beings. Shannon resolves this puzzle by showing a man who, as he puts it, in the end, asks only for the forgiveness of his family, knowing he will not get it.

He continued to ask because he felt that he had hurt people who meant everything to him, who were in fact the only people who meant anything to him.