The Iceman (2013)

Netflix Star Rating: ★★★★☆
Poe’s Star Rating: ★★1/2☆☆☆ (Cold, too cold.)

A notorious contract killer slowly becomes unhinged as his professional life falls apart, which threatens to bring down his personal life, as well.

Category: Biography, Crime, Drama

Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content

Starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder and Ray Liotta

Written by Morgan Land and Ariel Vromen/ Directed by Ariel Vromen

The hiatus is over folks, and Poe’s Picks is back on the menu. I hope everyone survived while the blog was away, as I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving you great readers out in the dark, devoid of any movies to declare feast or famine. With the quick turnaround from spring break, our movie for this week was chosen by myself, with some help from the roommates, and not by an elaborate booby trap or medieval device. Disappointing, I know. Don’t forget to send me any feedback of films reviewed here on the blog, whether you loved them or hated themI can take the verbal beating. You’ve waited this long, so let’s dive into the deep end.

leaf graphic
Photo Courtesy of IMDB.

“The Iceman” is based off the true story of Richard Kuklinski, an infamous contract killer during the mid-to-late 20th century. Kuklinski, who got his nickname by preserving his victims’ bodies in coolers to prevent police from time-labeling the deaths, was said to have killed more than 100 people during his run.

The film begins with Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) on a date with Deborah (Winona Ryder); he’s asked her out many times, reluctance finally overcoming her. The two of them share a somewhat awkward but intimate conversation at the dinner. We see Kuklinski at his job, which he tells Deborah is making Disney movies but is actually a cover-up for distributing porn tapes on 35 mm film. Remember, this is pre-Internet.

A scheduling screw-up lands him seven boxes of porn short for the mafia distributing them. It’s here that crime boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) shows up, gun in hand, and tells Kuklinski to get the goods or he’s a dead man. Even with Demeo’s gun pointed in his face, there’s no fear or change in facial expression from Kuklinski, which sparks a sadistic job offer from Demeo. Job offer and training passed, Kuklinski begins his rise from homegrown serial killer to hitman, although the only main difference in the two is the cash involved.

The performances of the film are sound. Ryder plays a ditzy housewife and mother who is so unaware of her husband’s day job that we can’t help but wonder if there’s something missing between her ears. Liotta, who I swear shows up in every other mob movie, knows his role as crime boss Demeo like he knows the back of his hand. Chris Evans, most commonly known for his role as Captain America in the Marvel films, plays another killer operating out of an old ice cream truck. I found his character to be one of the better aspects of the film; he’s a free-wheeling, smooth-talking, laid back guy who will run you over with his truck and do it with a smile on his face.

The film obviously belongs to Shannon, whose stern face is perfect for the role of Kuklinski. Tall, brooding and menacing, he intimidates everyone in his path with only the flicker of his eyes. Shannon is a very talented actor who has starred in big budget films like “Man of Steel,” and also does low budget and comedy films. He’s very good as Kuklinski but not great, and I think that’s more an issue with who Kuklinski was himself, not with Shannon’s acting. The Iceman himself was quiet, rarely known to lash out, but when he did, he killed… and killed… and killed.

And therein lies one of my main issues with the film. Kuklinski committed more than 100 murders in about 20 years, some of them small killings for pleasure and others major killings with mafia ties. The film never finds its balance. At times, the pace is much too quick, jumping from killing to killing over many years that it almost becomes disorienting and characters harboring major appearance changes in a matter of minutes. There’s no true rhythm to the film, and I think it would have been better served as a mini-series, maybe four hour-long episodes.

For me, film and television are always about the characters. Plot is important but look at a show like “Seinfeld” where there is minimal plot. Why was it so successful? Because we loved the characters. Without much of a rhythm to the film, we don’t get to understand the true motives of the characters. We get a cold-blooded killer who kills for pleasure and money, a cliché worrisome housewife and two more guys who kill for money. I think we’re all fascinated by serial killers on some level but understanding what they do is as important as why they do it.

Other than that, I don’t know much else about what drives their decisions and choices. Characters should never reveal everything about themselves because part of the fun is our own interpretation of their motives. But when you can barely scratch the surface, you don’t care about who lives and who dies. And that’s how I felt here; much like Kuklinski, I didn’t care who lived or died. After so many killings, I began to grow numb and the initial shock value wore off. I think that’s what happened to the Iceman: he got bored with all the killing, like me. I hope that doesn’t mean I have serial killer tendencies because I only throw the occasional cat down a well. I’ve said too much already… *puts on leather gloves and pistol silencer*

Until Next Time.

In Good Movies We Trust,

Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe