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The Iceman Review: A Michael Shannon Acting Showcase

Now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, The Iceman chronicles the real life figure of Richard Kuklinski, a mass murderer who rose to the ranks of chief enforcer for Newark's DeCavalcante crime family and New York City's Five Families. From 1948 and 1986 he murdered between 100 and 250 people beginning at age 13. He gained his chilly moniker for his propensity to freeze bodies to throw off the time of death, a practice coupled with a lengthy police investigation finally led to the arrest of the family man. Here, the unflinching psychopath is portrayed intensely by Michael Shannon, crafting a man who is simultaneously loving (but distant) at home and cunning and stone cold when carrying out his assignments. It’s a performance that makes the film one absolutely worth seeing despite the questionable way the story unfurls.  The actions of Kuklinski have been well documented over the years thanks to testimony from the man himself and any amount of evidence amassed from witnesses and the results of his crimes. On many occasions, director Ariel Vromen and his co-conspiring screenwriter Morgan Land embellish certain instances of the story, fabricate others and inexplicably leave out other fascinating (and simultaneously terrifying) elements. Even those with a cursory knowledge of Kuklinski’s actions will notice certain omissions, a baffling development considering how accessible and inherently cinematic all these facts are. But even when The Iceman struts to the brink of fiction, Shannon brings it back to solid ground and reminds us why at the very least he is one of the most interesting actors working today. While, again, the edges of this cruel man may be softened to make him more sympathetic in his home life, Shannon still brings an interesting duality to an individual who thrives while on the hunt and then flicks off the switch when he enters through his front door. His varying appearance over the years also serves to help assemble a fleshed out character, one we journey with as he cuts a path of carnage decades long. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, Shannon can do explosive like nobody’s business but his quiet menace can be just as effective. An opening scene where he stands up to a trio of violent mobsters illustrates this side of Kuklinski, a man with no fear to be had except when it comes for the potential for harm to befall his loved ones.  The supporting characters are also excellent led by Winona Ryder who has had a bit of a dramatic resurgence with excellent turns in films like Black Swan. She is a meek but devoted mother and loving husband who is oblivious to her significant other’s actions, not because she is a scared dove who turns a blind eye but rather that her husband is such a different man when he is around her. There is a great sequence when Richard experiences a bit of a breakdown while driving after some hard times at the “office” and her reaction to the incident and the ensuing fight are some of the film’s most dramatically potent. Ray Liotta as mobster Roy Demeo does his usual wiseguy routine to great effect, playing more of a straight monster than what we normally see. Chris Evans has great scenes with Shannon as another contract killer for the mob who first introduces Kuklinski to the practice of freezing bodies, and finally an initially unrecognizable David Schwimmer shows up as a friend of Roy’s and fellow gangster who brings a great squirrelly energy to his limited role. Collectively, the cast never hits a low spot and always serves to elevate the material even if it veers from the straight and narrow.  Likely better suited to a non network miniseries which could fully examine the multifaceted life this man lived, the exploits of The Iceman are still more than compelling enough to recommend this particular chronicling of events. It’s rare to see a performance that allows you to forgive a film’s pitfalls and even defend it on that merit alone, but Shannon does just that in The Iceman, culminating in one of the year’s best performances, and one you won’t soon forget.


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