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Movie review: ‘The Iceman,’ based on the true story of a mob hit man

Posted 6:49am on Friday, May. 17, 2013

R (strong violence, pervasive strong language, sexual content); 115 min.

Michael Shannon has basically rewritten the book on how to portray dark, volatile men in film with his unerring way of channeling rage and repression. It was never more chilling, or more fully realized, than in his turn as a family man both paralyzed and driven by his apocalyptic fears in 2011’s Take Shelter.

But even Shannon has his work cut out for him in the new crime drama The Iceman.

Based on the true story of convicted killer Richard Kuklinski, who was arrested in 1986 and later claimed to have carried out 100 hits for the mob over a 20-year span, it seemed to be right in Shannon’s wheelhouse. The New York-area murders are not what make Kuklinski so fascinating. It was the duality of his life. At home, he was a devoted husband and father. At work, he killed for hire without breaking a sweat. Thus the tabloids would dub him “the Iceman.” I guess you could say Kuklinski blew hot and cold .

The movie, however, is mostly cold. Directed by Ariel Vromen, it starts on a lighter note, though with its very noir-ish color palette, even light seems dark. Deborah (Winona Ryder), a pretty waitress in a modest diner, catches Kuklinski’s eye. Deborah sees in him a way out of a dreary existence. She will spend the next two decades only seeing the husband as a provider and, at least one scene suggests, a very good lover.

The Iceman’s problem rests instead with the script, which the director wrote with Morgan Land, his collaborator on the Rx screenplay. It never gets underneath Kuklinski’s skin in a way that illuminates the psychosis.

Ironically, the filmmakers do better at fleshing out some of the smaller characters. David Schwimmer is excellent, and unrecognizable, as Josh Rosenthal. Meanwhile, James Franco cruises through long enough to crack up nicely. And Chris Evans settles in about midway through the movie as Mr. Freezy, a contract-killing competitor who works out of an ice cream truck.

— Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

The Iceman

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