Movie review: 'Iceman' fascinating in look at loving thug

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

After playing Richard Kuklinski in "The Iceman," General Zod in "Man of Steel" should be a piece of cake for Michael Shannon.

Truth be told, the Oscar nominee has yet to meet a role he couldn't conquer, whether it was in "Boardwalk Empire," "Revolutionary Road" or "Take Shelter."

In "The Iceman," he portrays real-life hitman Richard Kuklinski, who claimed to have killed 100 or more people before dying under mysterious circumstances in the prison wing of a New Jersey hospital.

The movie, much of which is set in the 1970s, also stars a nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans, Ray Liotta burning with his usual intensity and temper, David Schwimmer in funky mustache and ponytail, and James Franco and Stephen Dorff in cameos.

'The Iceman'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta.

  • Rating:

    R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content.

Winona Ryder is Deborah, Kuklinski's wife and the mother of their two daughters who buys the lies her husband tells her about his line of work and source of income. When they first meet, he claims he dubs Disney cartoons (he really dubs porn distributed by the Mafia) and flatters her with, "You're a prettier version of Natalie Wood."

Kuklinski becomes a tender father, despite abuse he suffered as a boy and his own ability to shoot a homeless man begging for change. Or to kill, by gun, ice pick, hand grenade, chain saw, bomb or cyanide solution, dismember and freeze a corpse (to help disguise the time of death).

However, he doesn't believe in killing women or children, while fellow hit man and ice-cream truck operator Mr. Freezy (Mr. Evans) lives by his own criminal code.

Kuklinski, who in real life was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 300 pounds, compartmentalized his worlds -- hit man, family man -- until they collided, combusted and turned to ashes.

His arrest and imprisonment wasn't the last the world heard from him, however. His New York Times obituary noted he promoted his own notoriety by appearing in two HBO documentaries as well as meeting with writers, psychiatrists and criminologists.

Director and co-writer Ariel Vromen was mesmerized by the first of those documentaries, "The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman." This film is a grisly but fascinating, a reminder that a man can love his family and still carry out heinous acts and a woman can look the other way when she's comfortably settled in the suburbs.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, where this movie played, Mr. Shannon talked about Kuklinski.

"I do think that he knew what evil was, and he knew he might be evil but he really didn't want to be. There was a real struggle inside of him, I mean, every time someone talks about how cold-blooded and ruthless he seems to be, I just always go back to the moment in the interview -- and it's in the movie, it's at the end of the movie -- where he says, this is not what I would be. It seemed pretty sincere to me when he said it."

Today through Wednesday at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?