CRIMEWATCH: The Iceman
Based on a true story, Michael Shannon stars as Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski an infamous contract killer for the New York mob during the 70s and 80s. We are introduced to “Richie” in the early 60s when he’s on a date with Deborah (Winona Ryder) a sweet young girl who he later marries. Our first glimpse of Richie’s evil side occurs after he is insulted by a punk kid at a pool hall. He says nothing and doesn’t get visibly upset, he just walks up to the guy, slits his throat then disappears into the darkness.
Richie works at a porno movie processing lab which is owned by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) a ruthless mobster. After witnessing Richie’s calm demeanor during a violent confrontation one night, DeMeo hires him to be a hitman. Kuklinski is given all the dirty jobs DeMeo and his crew don’t want to be linked to. We get to see through a montage the various gruesome ways Richie carries out his orders. Although he is known as The Iceman, Richie is actually just called “pollock” by DeMeo and others which comes off as more of an insult to let him know he’s not really one of them. What’s most intriguing about the story is how it portrays Kuklinski’s two personalities, with one side being oddly likable and the other stone cold deadly. For him it was clear his line of work was just that, it was nothing personal, and he did it solely because he loved his wife and kids and wanted the best for them. Like many murderers we learn through a quick flashback that Kuklinski’s early childhood was filled with parental abuse which, along with his own genetic disposition turned him into a true socio-psychopath. One of the film’s standout performances is from Chris Evans (yes the same guy who plays Captain America) in the role of Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge, another mafia associate who specializes in contract killing. What makes his character special is the fact he works as a neighborhood ice cream man to cover up his other job. So you get these yin and yang images of complete innocence mixed with the exact opposite. Evans gives Mr. Freezy a dry sense of humor/wit and quick temper that when contrasted with Shannon’s calm demeanor is very comical. He and Kuklinski make quite a frosty duo when they later decide to team up on hits.
Director Ariel Vroman opted for a semi-documentary approach while the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski injects it with a washed out, cold look and along with the clothing, sets and period music creates a distinctive 70s atmosphere. The scenes of Kuklinski’s “normal” domestic life are shot with a more warm aura and really get across just how much of a doting family man he was. None of the violence shown is particularly impactful and is actually not much of a main focus.
The Iceman isn’t the most realistic of biopics due to it making Kuklinski a largely sympathetic figure (which he obviously wasn’t), but as a heightened fictional account of parts of his adult life it is entertaining and features a superb cast of actors that are in top form. Look for a couple of brief but memorable cameos from James Franco and Stephen Dorff as well.