Directed by: Ariel Vromen
Cast: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer
Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins
Release Date: May 17, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: The real life story of Richard Kuklinski (Shannon), a family man who also claimed to have murdered over a hundred people for the mafia.
WHO’S IT FOR? Fans of Michael Shannon might find his performance to be worth a look, despite a weak script saying otherwise.
Michael Shannon is on course to be a huge star. With his lead villain role as Zod only a month away in June’s Man of Steel, this intense Frankenstein of a Chicago actor is about leave a huge impression on a moviegoing public that is attracted to performances that are dark, weird, intense, or some mix of the three. (He has previously provided such performances with appearances in movies like Premium Rush, Take Shelter, and Machine Gun Preacher). But before challenging Superman in Man of Steel, Shannon-palooza makes a stop at Iceman, a mini-event on his resume that definitely needs the power of Shannon to not leave audiences entirely cold.
Regardless as to whether Kuklinski roared like how Shannon makes him, Shannon successfully turns this role into performance art on the bottling of anger, and the explosiveness when an internal beast is released. Come for the disturbing portrayal of a murderous family man living a life lie, stay for the scenes in which Shannon rains genocide on kitchenware, or challenges the walls of an elevator to dare contain him.
Shannon is no simpleton of emotion; he knows the compelling spectacle of a large man screaming to himself “I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY” but he surely commands attention during his more docile moments. If it’s not because of the murderous events that bizarrely bookend those with him and his family, it’s the uncertainty he brings to the screen. As this killer who also found some type of peace with his family, a gentle side of him is palpable. But at the same time, we uneasily anticipate when he will snap next.
While the script may not ultimately do too much with this character, Iceman certainly focuses on a compelling subject in its observation of secrecy leading to a whole double life. In one life, Kuklinski is married, has children, and an elaborate lie about his occupation that even his wife (played by Ryder) seems to buy. And yet, on the other end of the phone line, or on the other side of town, or even on other branches of his family tree, is the dark existence that Kuklinski can only control by keeping it at bay.
The double life of a criminal admittedly isn’t that fresh of a perspective, as that seems to be the protocol for many criminals attempting to function as regular human beings despite their involvement with illegal activity (even Evans’ character still sells ice cream from his sicko ice cream truck). But Iceman earns notches of intrigue for the tightrope walk Kuklinski constantly tries to balance, especially as the body count rises, and the work pressure on him gets more intense. Here is a man that is about to burst.
Iceman works with an ensemble cast that’s more like a collection of distracting cameos, often complemented negatively by the appearance of goofy hair, or even worse, facial hair. Such is the case with David Schwimmer and Evans, both of which who play a relatively big part in Kuklinski’s arc, but their appearances are as planted as their movie magic mustaches. Then there’s the likes of James Franco, who must have originally been doing another art project working the film’s best boy, but got thrown in front of the camera for a few shots instead. All of these cameos come off as favors for the director, first and foremost.
Ray Liotta could be added to this list, despite his lack of any goofy facial hair, but I won’t joke about that. Like with Shannon, I don’t f**k with Ray Liotta.
Iceman is a movie of tall orders that has anything but a smooth execution. This biopic can’t match its ambition, and struggles to ground itself more than just a movie about a dangerous man with a secret. On top of this, Iceman tries to pull off certain feats even good movies have a problem doing with finesse. These feats include covering numerous decades in one story, through transforming fashions and chic facial hair, and with star power that is essentially glaring cameos. Many movies have been damned by these elements separately, but Iceman stumbles through these components simultaneously, with hammy accents to boot. It’s a hat trick that makes Iceman a unique misfire, but albeit one that is more goofy than it is resonant. I’ve heard a story about Michael Shannon and a Chicago water fountain that is more entertaining than Iceman.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10