The film is based on the true story of contract killer, Richard Kuklinski. He was not only a prolific hit man but seems to have been a serial killer even before he was being paid for it. It is great when you can get paid for your hobby! Kuklinski also was a family man and his family was unaware of his profession. Keep in mind, this is not some gangster hijacking trucks, running a casino or running drugs. This is the guy the other gangsters call when someone needs to die. It is said he killed a hundred men. But he wouldn’t kill women or children.
Kuklinski is played by Michael Shannon who, as usual, shows him to be amongst the best actors around today. An Oscar is in his future if his career trajectory keeps him getting plum roles. It will not be for a film like this one—the Academy doesn’t hand out awards for playing laconic characters in small movies but after this? And Superman? And Boardwalk Empire? And Take Shelter? I predict a role that leads to a nomination is coming. Shannon is great in the role, throughout the movie he seems to be ready to explode (and he does on occasion). He seethes his way through this movie as a man who isn’t really conflicted but who seems to want to be normal, even though he isn’t. He pauses before killing one victim, sits down and gives him a chance to pray so he can see if God will save him. That is about as cold as it gets.
Others on board are more at home in gangster movies. Ray Liotta could play his role in his sleep. Not disparaging but who else has been in as many gangster movies? DeNiro? Lower profile but likewise often cast as gangsters or cops are John Ventimiglia and the venerable Robert Davi.
Winona Ryder is also excellent as Kuklinski’s wife. There is a great scene with her and Shannon when his character’s two worlds collide. You see in that scene as well as in the film’s opening scene how a woman could fall for such a man. He seems positively mild mannered in most of his interactions with her. When he starts behaving oddly she fears he may have been laid off. In a sense he was but not from the job she thinks.
So why might viewers find themselves not caring?
It is because the past forty years may well have beaten us up with mobster movies. There have been realistic films like Donnie Brasco; there have been the idealized mobsters of The Godfather films. There have been good films, bad films, television, parodies and more. Maybe just the whole genre needs a rest? You cannot say much bad about The Iceman.There are a few hiccups but it is a pretty good film. It just happens to be part of a genre that is in need of a reboot, or an enema.