Writers: Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen
Starring: Michael Shannon, Wiona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco, Stephen Dorff
Synopsis: Chronicling the life of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski (Shannon), a near-emotionless contract killer for the mob.
Just before he becomes a global superstar with Man of Steel, there is still opportunity to see Michael Shannon doing what he does best – troubled, embittered characters in independent films. Growing ever-more popular since his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road, it’s still refreshing to see Shannon take on smaller roles in what are essentially cult films. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, Bad Lieutenant and Take Shelter (one of the best films of recent memory) have all been minute films in comparison to what will be the next Superman movie, and all promote Shannon’s great talent. The Iceman feels slightly bigger (with an all-star cast and 40s-80s expensive set, props and costume design) but is contained in its meditative portrayal of one of America’s most prolific hired hitmen.
A fan of Michal Shannon is a fan of rather slow and sometimes solemn cinema. For those looking for a contemporary action-packed, bloody gangster film, The Iceman won’t completely satisfy. The events that unravel are frequently paired with gory violence and gun-shots but this isn’t a modern Goodfellas. Instead, Ariel Vromen has made a gloomy, dramatised biopic of an unreadable man. Kuklinski is a quiet sort whose purpose and drive in life is never completely detailed. In following a mysterious figure for 100 minutes there has to be something intriguing to warrant interest. It was similar with Mesrine, and like the French criminal film it is only the lead actor who manages to keep you from nodding off. Mesrine’s Vincent Cassell is, in many ways, a European version of Shannon who acts with his eyes and with very little expression, yet still conveys a wealth of emotion by some strange happenstance. Both warrant your attention in nearly everything they do but they cannot continually act within stand-out films. This is the case for The Iceman which is good, but not great.
Performances are terrific all round (though David Schwimmer playing a gangster is jarring even with nine years passing since Friends) and it’s usually very aesthetically pleasing. None of these factors, however, can ever save a film from a dull screenplay. The Iceman’s life is an intriguing one but it’s missing something electric and poignant. The end tries to surmise the man’s life in a powerful way, yet fails somewhat by the modestly mundane proceeding 95 minutes.
For fans of Michael Shannon it is worth watching; as he ages through the film you can see Shannon’s performance evolving progressively, advertising his innate acting skills. Ray Liotta joining him (adding another mob-man to his character catalogue) and further support from an unrecognisable Chris Evans give the film some interesting scenes. Nevertheless, on the whole, the film is insubstantial in its exploration of Kuklinski’s life leaving it only as an average piece of entertainment.
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