Top positive review
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Chilling and hard-as-nails but riveting
on May 17, 2013
"The Iceman" (2013 release; 106 min.; not to be confused with the 1984 movie "Iceman" with Timothy Hutton) brings the true-life story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious New Jersey contract killer with a double life as devoted husband and father. As the movie opens, there is a very short glimpse of a very old Kuklinksi, saying "I don't regret anything", after which we are transported back in time to 1964 when Kuklinski (played by Michael Shannon) is on a date with Debbie (played by Winona Ryder). Debbie asks him what he does and he answers "I do Disney movies" (when in reality we later find out he works as a porn movie manufacturer). It is the beginning of a long double-life. Kuklinski and Debbie get married and soon have two young daughters. Meanwhile, Kuklinski gets involved in dubious dealings that lead him to become a contract killer. To tell you much more of the plot would surely ruin your viewing pleasure, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out,
Several comments: this movie (which in the end credits is shown to be based on the book of the same name, as well as the infamous "Iceman Tapes: Interviews With a Killer") is chilling and hard-as-nails, but ultimately riveting and yes, entertaining. There isn't so much surprise as to the story (since we all pretty much know how it's going to end), but in the circumstances of the story. How was Kuklinski able to have parallel lives in which his family had no idea about his "other life"? Director Ariel Vromen does a great job in giving us clues. About midway into the movie there is a pivotal scene in which we see Kuklinski visiting his younger brother, who it turns out is in jail for murdering a 12 yr. girl. When Kuklinski tells him he now has a wife and 2 daughters, his brother goes ballistic, telling him "you're no better than me, we're screwed up in the head". There is another clutch scene in the movie: Kuklinski, with his family in the car, gets involved in a fender bender, and the other driver insults/threatens his wife, which send Kuklinski over the top (I won't reveal what exactly happens).
The performances in the movie are mostly outstanding, none more so than Michael Shannon, bringing a tour-de-force as we watch him in the role of Kuklinski over a 20 year period (mid-60s to mid-80s). But I was also quite impressed by Winona Ryder, whom I hadn't seen on screen in quite a while. Her role as the clueless but devoted wife and mother is top-notch. Check out also David "Friends" Schwimmer in a smaller role as Josh (another mobster) and James Franco in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo (less than 5 min. screen time). Please note that I did not mention Ray Liotta, I mean, how many more mobster characters can the guy still bring? There was some nice music placement, we hear ELO's "Livin' Thing" during a roller-skating outing of Kuklinski and his family, and later we also get Blondie's "Heart of Glass" in a disco scene where a hit is planned.
Bottom line: this movie flew by in no time for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, more so for the performances than for anything else. There are quite a bit of violent scenes, so this is probably not for anyone faint of heart. This movie showed up this weekend on a single screen for all of Greater Cincinnati, but I must say that, given the subject matter of the movie, I was quite surprised how well attended the screening was when I saw this. If you are in the mood for something gritty and dark with outstanding performances, you cannot go wrong with this. "The Iceman" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!