Witness the last of Michael Shannon’s obscurity to movie audiences (you already know him well if you’re a ”Boardwalk Empire” fan). Until now he’s just been that extremely tall guy with the crazy eyes, wide mouth, brooding menace and threat of violence with one gaze of his steely eyes.
The reason he won’t be obscure any more – after impactful roles in small films from ”Revolutionary Road” to ”Take Shelter”, is because he’s about to explode onto Hollywood’s radar playing General Zod to Henry Cavill’s Superman.
But for now Shannon relies on slicked-back hair, a 70s porn tache and his even, icy gaze to play hitman Richard Kuklinski, who’s supposed to have whacked 100 people during his two decade-long career.
Happily married to the sweet Deborah (Winona Ryder) with two teenage daughters, the most amazing thing about Kuklinski’s story is that the entire time he was killing people for unpaid debts and graft, his wife and daughters thought he was a bond trader.
We meet Kuklinski as a young man with a beautiful girlfriend and no real prospects when the illegal porn film lab he works at is shut down. When his former employer, mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) challenges him to kill a homeless guy, he’s impressed with Kuklinski’s coldness at the act, earning him a new job and contributing to nickname along with his propensity to freeze his victims so the police can’t establish the time of death.
An early coda shows Kuklinski’s true nature – after an argument in a bar he casually waits for the guy to get in his car and slices his throat. So the midsection of the film – setting Kuklinski up as a man with an inner darkness – isn’t actually necessary. Writer/director Ariel Vroman seems to agree, glossing over a lot of Kuklinski’s career in a montage that shows his hair getting increasingly greasy and his beard and moustache growing increasingly alarming.
The final third doesn’t have very far to go thematically other than setting up Kuklnski in a series of ever-more desperate alliances and double crosses as his wealth is threatened – despite his essential evil, he loves his wife and kids and the high life he provides for them.
Ironically for such a sombre, menacing performance, Shannon is great at portraying Kuklinski’s inner torment – particularly the constant worry his living will follow him home. He’s surrounded by a host of barely-recognisable but impressive cast of support actors, from Chris Evans as fellow hitman Pronge to David Scheimmer as a low life protégé of Demeo’s.
In the end ”The Iceman” doesn’t really say much about the criminal underworld a dozen other movies haven’t already, and the premise doesn’t leave as much room for the psychological journey as you might like, but if the blend of inner and outer journeys don’t entertain you, the casual brutality and Shannon’s insane eyes – perfect for a Kryptonian despot – will glue you to your seat.