“I don’t believe in bad luck”: 'The Iceman' Review
Based on the life of one of the most notorious hit men in U.S. history, The Iceman is a riveting true crime story anchored by an electrifying lead performance by Michael Shannon. During the 1960s and all the way up to the late 1970s, Richard Kuklinski (played with a calm ferocity by Michael Shannon) executed numerous people during his time working as a hit man for the mob. Co-written and directed by Ariel Vromen, The Iceman focuses on Kuklinski’s life as a hitman from his beginnings as a low-level enforcer through his status as a fearsome mob killer while also including aspects of his personal life.
Vromen’s film is sleek, beautifully shot (cinematographer Bobby Bukowski keeps the visuals painted in a sepia tone 1970s gritty look) and incredibly well acted. Aside from Shannon’s magnificent portrayal of Kuklinski (watch out for a scene that has him losing his temper to a driver; it perfectly encapsulates Shannon’s fiery calm take on the character) the film also includes excellent supporting work from Winona Ryder, Robert Davi, Ray Liotta and even Chris Evans in a minor role. Kuklinski’s murders became famous because of how ruthless, in execution, they were, and the film certainly doesn’t skimp on the graphic nature of his killings.
The film focuses the majority of its running time to Kuklinski’s life in crime, which might explain why some of the family scenes feel rushed, but there’s an impending sense of forwarding momentum that gives the family scenes an even greater sense of doom.
Despite the unraveling of the story occurring in rapid fashion, Vromen’s film is still a fascinating and gripping look at a notorious true-life hit man. There’s a definite sense that Vromen is angling for an epic, grand feel in the tradition of other gangster classics like Goodfellas and even though his film doesn’t quite reach that level, it still is a fascinating look at crime through the eyes of a figure that is not the head of the mob.
Even though the conflict at the center of the story is about family and how one chooses to take care of family, the exploration is slight at the very least. Instead, Vromen is more interested in focusing on the criminal aspect of Kuklinski. There’s a particular notion that Vromen is interested in following the path of how Kuklinski rose to power within the criminal underworld. The exploration of how Kuklinski started off as a low-level enforcer and eventually leads up to him rising to become a name synonymous with fear within that criminal world. That aspect is wonderfully explored, and Shannon portrays that descent into absolute darkness like nobody else.
In fact, one of the best scenes of the film concerns Kuklinski realizing how good he is at killing. It’s similar to the “I drive” speech from Drive that Ryan Gosling gives to the people that want to employ him. That’s a trope that is always great to see in films; when a character knows that he is good at his job and he/she has to tell someone that they know, they are good.
The Iceman might not be the Goodfellas of hitman films, but it has enough style and grit to make it a watch especially if you’re a fan of crime thrillers. There’s even a great supporting cast behind it, but it is the Michael Shannon show; he owns every single frame that he’s in, and ultimately he’s the reason why people should check out the film. It’s disappointing that it went a little bit undiscovered because it is an excellent hidden gem within the crime thriller genre.