You might think that a film which features a snarling Ray Liotta, a collection of mob and mafia goons and a ‘hit’ every few minutes might have come direct from Martin Scorsese’s imagination. However this story, based on the true tale of Richard ‘The Iceman’ Kuklinski, is every bit as chilling as those fictional figments created by the gangster film maestro.
Kuklinski (a towering Michael Shannon) is recruited by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Liotta) as his go-to hitman; happy to live his suburban life with wife (Winona Ryder) and kids while killing for DeMeo on the side. When the body count reaches triple figures though Kuklinski realizes just how dangerous the mob world is.
That ‘Based on a true story’ tag means that Ariel Vromen’s film, however powerful and bloody, is never going to live up to the bizarre and uncomfortable tale on which it’s actually based. The fact that the real Kuklinski racked up anything towards 250 kills before being discovered deserves a less formulaic biopic than Vromen manages here.
However The Iceman’s saving grace, as with pretty much any film he’s in, is Shannon. Thankfully promoted from supporting roles to leads in recent years, both this and the recent Take Shelter show just how versatile and commanding a screen presence Shannon is. Raging psychopath one minute, ‘loving’ family man the next, just look at how he reacts to anyone who threatens either of those fragile existences.
However he’s saddled with a rather clichéd plot and structure which degenerates into one bloodied killing after another to ensure he remains at large. Given the body count and insight into a criminal mind on offer here it’s a shame that the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn or QuentinTarantino didn’t snap this one up for, although Vromen does a decent job, this tale’s too fantastical for the by-the-book filmmaking offered up here.