Customer Reviews: The Iceman
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"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!
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This is one of those gnarly stories based on real life; Richard Kuklinski's story has to be true, no one could make it up. In this R-rated thriller written and directed by Ariel Vromen, we see what shapes a contract killer, what is important to him and whether or not he holds any values. It's awkward for an audience when we find ourselves in a position to be rooting for a cold-blooded killer, and yet we really do NOT want to see his sweet family jeopardized, so we want him to survive.

The cast:
* Michael Shannon ("Premium Rush" and "Boardwalk Empire") is Richard Kuklinski, our contract killer; he is a limited man with limited options: no education, no charm and no skills (other than lethal ones), so he does the best he can with what he has. Shannon is one of the finest actors working today and this difficult role is worthy of him.
* Winona Ryder ("The Dilemma") is Deborah Pellicotti, the shy Catholic girl who wouldn't even do any heavy petting until she was married. Her devoted husband respected and adored her.
* Chris Evans ("What's Your Number?") is Mr. Freezy, whose ubiquitous ice cream truck moves invisibly through the city. This scraggly haired thug bears NO resemblance to "Captain America" let me tell you!
* Ray Liotta ("The Details") is Roy Demeo, a pornographer/crime lord who tested and then exploited the ice water which ran through Kuklinski's veins.

Because this takes place over a time span of nearly 20 years, you will get a kick out of the different cars, clothes, hair styles and mustaches that enjoyed passing popularity. Also, it's refreshing to see pagers and pay phones instead of the ever-present cell phones in today's world. If you are anything like me, you will appreciate "the rest of the story" which appears during the final credits. You can't like a film like this, but you can be impressed by it. Amazon will notify me when this is available.
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on September 19, 2013
Before seeing this movie I had read books on the Iceman and had already seen the documentaries on HBO, so when I saw this movie I knew pretty much what to expect from it. That being said, I really enjoyed the movie, however, what shook me the most was the performance by Michael Shannon. He blew me away and nailed his performance. The talent that came out of him was breathtaking. Honestly. I enjoyed seeing Wynona Ryder as his wife, she added such a sweet appearance to his home life. Ray Liotta fit perfectly. Chris Evans surprised my husband and I as we are watching the movie I am commenting how nasty (looking) his character is and my husband says he looks so familiar, then after the movie we realize it's Chris Evans (aka Captain American) and got such a kick out of it. It really was a great cast! I found the move to be very enjoyable and being based on a true story made me enjoy it even more.
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on May 21, 2013
Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Stephen Dorff, and David Schwimmer like you've never seen him before, lead a first-rate cast in this dark attempt to bring the true story of Jersey City-bred mob contract killer Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski to the big screen and almost succeeds. Yeah, there's a few minor flaws here. The first mistake is one that I would consider to be debatable - using Anthony Bruno's book as a key reference instead of the late Philip Carlo's. IMO Carlo's was superior to the former. The second being a somewhat sketchy plot. For those who don't know, Kuklinski (Shannon) was a killer living in Bergen County and worked in the porn business before doing contract killings for Roy Demeo (Liotta) of a Brooklyn faction in the Gambino Family. An awesome cameo from Stephen Dorff as Richard's deranged child rapist/murderer brother Joe Kuklinski is spot-on, and Shannon's dead-on impersonation of Kuklinski's HBO interviews is chilling. Schwimmer is hilariously sleazy as Josh Rosenthal (character's real name was Chris Rosenberg, Demeo's "adopted son") Oh, and there's a terrific scene in a disco, involving John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco from Sopranos), with Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' blasting in the backround, that you have to see to believe.

3½ stars.
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on October 15, 2013
Here's the deal, I know it was based on fact, I know he was a very violent man but after a while all the killing became so predictable that it failed to get any kind of emotion out of me. Michael Shannon is right for the part, you can believe his weird character but it was just to gory. Please note some people really liked the movie, personally I waited for it to come out I was really excited but it just didn't do it for me.
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on April 20, 2015
I found this film quite gripping but later I was disappointed when I learned how far it strayed from the known facts of Richard Kuklinski in an attempt to make him into at least a somewhat sympathetic character. That was totally uncalled for. The real Richard Kuklinski was a serial killer who killed numerous people for no good reason including many homeless people whom he killed for sport. Despite being presented as a loving family man he in fact physically abused his wife on numerous occasions, once stabbing her and on another occasion breaking her nose. Many of his victims were his business partners and in fact he commented that there was only one friend of his whom he didn't kill. Richard Kuklinski wasn't a loving family man who reluctantly murdered people who probably deserved it to support his family. He was a sadistic vicious paranoid serial killer who should not have been portrayed as anything other than the monster he absolutely was. Nevertheless I give it two stars because it was a well-written and acted, albeit fictional, film.
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VINE VOICEon August 9, 2015
Michael Shannon is simply terrific at playing the "creepy" guy...the one with perhaps a normal exterior, but whose inner life is deeply troubled. Usually, he delivers these shadings in the service of relatively nice guys (REVOLUTION ROAD, TAKING SHELTER [maybe his best role] and BUG, for example). These are all nice guys with issues. Shannon lets us see the surface and also the anguish just below. Whether it's a gaze that doesn't quite meet your eyes, or a furrowed brow or just a turn of phrase...he's never less than riveting and just a little scary.

In THE ICEMAN, he has found the perfect that no one but him could have played as well. While his lead role in the remarkable TAKING SHELTER is perhaps his most layered performance; his role in this true story is perhaps the most tailor-made for him. Which IS ironic, since it's a true story. Shannon plays a cold-blooded killer for the Jersey mob. Over the decades, it is estimated he killed over 100 people. In all manners of death and without remorse or pity. And without any seeming enjoyment. His face is a blank stare. When he is threatened with death, he has virtually no reaction beyond mild curiosity...and when he kills, there is even less going on. But when he is temporarily sidelined, he becomes like a caged animal, literally pacing and on edge and ready to explode. Killing clearly is his way of exorcising some kind of personal demon.

At the same time, Shannon is married and has a lovely family he cherishes above all else. His feelings, though a bit tightly contained, seem genuine. He loves his wife (Wynona Ryder) and never strays from her. His daughters are the light of his life. He keeps them sheltered from what he really does, and provides for them well. He is a bit of an odd-bird, even to his wife...but certainly no one would suspect what he really does.

This is a dark and low-budget film. There is little sunshine to be found, and given that much of it takes place in the '70s, it has an extra sheen of grime that comes with all the polyester. And the plot itself is pretty straightforward. We know (because the first scene shows us) that Shannon will be caught, but because he is surrounded by other low-life thugs who seem even more petty than him, we actually sort of root for the guy. The story is told through his eyes almost entirely, and we cannot help but side with him just a bit. There is, I reluctantly admit, something a bit gripping about seeing someone who is a master at what he does at work.

Shannon is the main reason, by far, to see this film. He is mesmerizing throughout. Ray Liotta has a significant role as the mob boss...doing the exact same character he's been doing for about 20 years. Ryder is fine...the role is hardly one that would revive her career, but it's good to see her in something where she isn't making fun of herself too. Best of all is Chris Evans as another hit man, who embarks on a years long collaboration of sorts with Shannon. His personality is all flash and sparkle...and Evans, normally such a straight-laced good guy (CAPTAIN AMERICA, anyone?) looks great in the '70s garb and hair. He's busting out with energy, creating a stark contrast with Shannon's contained rage.

We find out very little about this true to life character. We get a tiny glimpse at what may have broken in him, but no sense of what makes him so casual about killing. His love for his family seems genuine and shows real emotion. Yet he appears to be a sociopath of the first order. The two sides of him make for an uneasy reconciliation for the viewer, which I feel only adds to the power of the film.

The climax of the film comes fast and surprising. And Shannon finally gets a chance to let loose...and it's a thing of power and rawness. And unlike with his silly character in MAN OF STEEL, when this guy sees his life instantly collapsing, his outcry of rage and horror is chilling.

I highly recommend this film, although it does have a bleak outlook on life and humanity. I didn't feel depressed at its conclusion (not at all, it is so well done), but I wasn't exactly uplifted! [By the way, James Franco receives pretty high billing in the film and is on the cover of the disk. He is in exactly one brief scene. Just to warn ya.]
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I've watch all the Kuklinsky (sp?) interviews and I find him to be fascinating, if obviously terrible human being. This film doesn't compare to the reality of the documentaries, obviously. but as far as transferring his story to film, it does a decent job. The lead actor, in particular, was quite good at conveying the duality of Kuklinsky's life as a good father and husband, contrasted with his conssumately sociopathic ability to murder for profit (with some exceptions, but that goes beyond the scope of this review). Recommended for those who are interested in this killer's story, but probably a pass otherwise.
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on January 3, 2014
Michael Shannon is a man to watch. His performance in "Boardwalk Empire" is a display of gradual mental/moral disintegration.

In "The Iceman", I thought the role or the way he played the roll was too one-dimensional. He needs to seek out roles that allow him to show more depth...Frankenstein's Monster would be great....He could bring the sympathetic side that Boris Karloff brought to the role; he could bring much of the subtle gag material that Mel Brooks brought to the "Young Frankenstein".

I know I have wandered off track here because I want to see this actor succeed.

Download this movie; Watch this guy in "Boardwalk Empire". He is incredible as a scary, creepy guy with one dimension. You can't look away when he's on the screen. But, I believe he has many dimensions and should be encouraged to seek those types of roles.
S OBrien
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on July 17, 2014
In real life Kuklinski beat his wife all the time and his children and wife hated him, but I enjoyed this film and it has some good performances. I would've given it 4 stars if it wasn't for the note that comes up after the film is done which I will explain later.

The film makes you feel some empathy for the Iceman who is portrayed as a saint when it comes to his family- but the truth is very different. In reality, he often beat his wife so badly that she suffered miscarriages and broken bones. His wife tried breaking up with him when they were just dating, but he cut her in the back of the neck with a hunting knife and threatened to kill her if she dared leave him... and that's why she ended up marrying him. Not out of love, but out of fear. His daughters hated him so much that at least one of them plotted to poison him by putting something in his food. The only people who wanted this man dead more than the mafia bosses was his own family. In an interview his former wife said: "I will regret for the rest of my life, that I didn't just tell him the bastard he is and how much I hate him. I wish the last words he'd heard had been how much I hated his guts." Some loving family man, huh? But none of this really bothers me because these based on true story films are often full of misrepresentations and making the lead character someone to empathize with makes the experience more engaging for the viewer. As long as you keep these expectations you can enjoy these types of films as simply good movies without holding them up to any standard of truth.

But here is the thing that I do think is a big deal: After the movie ends the director flashes a note on screen stating that Kuklinski never saw his family again. This is a flat out lie. Kuklinski's wife continued to visit him in jail for almost a decade after his incarceration. According to her out of fear for her children since she thought that despite him being imprisoned he could still have someone on the outside cause harm to her. And she secretly recorded (with the help of a film production office) many of the phone conversations between he and she after he had gone to prison where the recordings show that he did he theaten her over the phone. When he was dying his wife took one of their daughters to visit him in the prison hospital also. I can excuse the director attempting to make the audience feel sorry for the lead CHARACTER, but I cannot excuse the director's blatant attempt to make the audience feel sorry for the REAL man, by printing the lie that he never saw his family again at the end of the film. Creating false scenes in a movie to make a good story are one thing, but the statements written at the end of a film are definitely meant to make the viewer believe something that occurred in reality. The statement that flashes across the screen stating that he never saw his family again was a flat out deception meant to evoke sympathy and I do not support it. If you ever meet director Ariel Vromen, don't take him at his word for anything.

For a final note I have cut and pasted the following from an article on the final hours of the iceman.

"as Richard Kuklinski's life finally slipped away, he became conscious long enough to ask doctors to make sure they revived him if he flatlined. But before she left, Barbara had signed a "do not resuscitate" order. A week before his death, in the early hours of March 5 2006, the hospital called Barbara to ask if she wished to rescind the instruction. She did not."
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