Sydney Film Festival – The Iceman review


By Simon Miraudo
June 9, 2013

Michael Shannon stars as notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman, a decent yet hysterically directed thriller. No one can play a slowly unravelling creep quite like Shannon, except for perhaps Ray Liotta, so it’s handy that he’s in this thing too. Liotta appears as Roy DeMeo, underboss of the Gambino crime family in New Jersey. He, ahem, “discovers” the short-tempered Kuklinski in a film production lab, dubbing pornos no less, and employs him as a contract killer for the mob. Kuklinski’s sociopathic tendencies are well-suited to this type of work. They say if you can get paid for a job you would gladly do for free, then you’re truly living the dream. Kuklinski was, in his way, living the dream. At the time of his imprisonment, he claimed to have murdered more than 100 men.

Director Ariel Vromen – who co-wrote the script with Morgan Land – doesn’t know how good he has it with a powderkeg performer like Shannon. The glory of getting this guy to play a maniac whose veneer of normalcy seems to always be on the brink of slipping is that you don’t need to underscore – and undermine – his work with an emphatic soundtrack, or hyperventilation-inspiring editing. It’s all there in his face and posture; tightly-coiled, and ready to pop like a violent jack in the box. Only when our protagonist begins to spiral out of control should the picture follow in his footsteps. That should come when war threatens to break out amongst the Jersey mafia, and Kuklinski is furloughed until further notice. The money dries up, and he breaks the one promise he made to DeMeo by teaming up with another hired gun (Chris Evans) and, well, I guess they call it freelancing?


Winona Ryder affects a “sexy baby” voice for Kuklinski’s naive wife Deborah, who, along with their two children, were kept in the dark as to daddy’s real profession. Joining Shannon and Liotta along for the ride are the similarly typecast tough guys John Ventimiglia and … David Schwimmer? James Franco pops up very briefly as one of Kuklinski’s ill-fated targets. The collection of talent here is good, if unconventional. And as a chronicle of one of America’s most infamous criminals, it’s a chilling one. Much of that credit must go to Shannon however, who delivers inspired work sometimes in spite of the mostly conventional feature around him.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Iceman plays the Sydney Film Festival June 10.

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