“The Iceman” has all the staples of a film about the mob.
There’s the basics like a business to serve as a front for illegal activity and the money coming in paired with themes like the main character struggling not to betray their family and who they work for.
Either scenario doesn’t end well. That is certainly the case in “The Iceman,” and it’s all based on a true story.
Michael Shannon stars in the film as Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer from New Jersey who killed more than 100 men. The film focuses on a period of his life from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, but it is reported Kuklinski’s mob career started in 1948.
Director and co-writer Ariel Vroman tells the story, for the most part, in a linear way to show the highs and lows of Kuklinski’s life.
He was a family man in the beginning, one that would do anything for his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) and two kids.
But you soon learn Kuklinski has a dark side that blurs the lines between what he can justify as good and bad all with the purpose to support his family.
At first Kuklinski simply follows orders from his boss in the mob, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) while his family thinks he has a day job lucrative enough to support their comfortable lifestyle in the New Jersey suburbs.
After Demeo is told to stay off the grid for a while by his boss, Leonard Marks (Robert Devi), Kuklinski continues on by working with another contract killer Mr. Freezy (and unrecognizable and amazing Chris Evans).
In the film Kuklinski and Mr. Freezy freeze their victims’ bodies to cover up when they died. Thus, Kuklinski’s nickname “The Iceman.”
The filmmakers credit a novel (“The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by Anthony Bruno)
and documentary (“The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer) about Kuklinksi’s life as sources for their work.
Shannon stands out for his portrayal of Kuklinski over about 20 years of his life and the actors cast in roles of those closest to him help show the type of man he was.
The cast also includes a mustachioed David Schwimmer as Demeo’s sidekick, another actor it is difficult to recognize at first glance, and James Franco.
I wasn’t familiar with Kuklinski’s story before seeing “The Iceman,” but I feel the filmmakers effectively used their own style to tell it while staying true to what happened and the book and documentary they credit.
Kuklinski was ultimately arrested and received two life sentences in prison for his crimes. He died in 2006.
In an interview, Vromen said he wanted to focus on the “love story” between Richard and his wife Deborah (named Barbara in real life) in making “The Iceman.”
The other side of it is the undercover investigation that led to Kuklinski’s arrest.
“When you have 18 or 19 years of stories, of so many characters, and a limitation of time and budget, you gotta choose what story you’re telling,” Vromen said at a recent press gathering in New York, when asked about the brevity of that important chapter. “I wanted to tell the love story. So I started the movie on a date and I end up on a separation.” (northjersey.com)
Maybe Vromen’s choice will divide audiences and, understandably, people who knew Kuklinski.
But I think it was a choice worth making to expose people, like me, to one facet of a story they had not heard about and to the inspiration it came from.