Film Review: ‘The Iceman’ by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

Devoted husband, loving father, and cold-blooded contract killer.

MV5BMTc3NjY3NzUyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA5NzAyOA@@._V1_SX214_Told in flashback, The Iceman is bookend with a prison confessional, as a convicted killer speaks of his reputation, regrets (there are none), and the hope of forgiveness from his family. The penetrating words are sharply delivered by Michael Shannon as the notorious and legendary Iceman himself, Richard Kuklinski, a mob assassin and contract killer whose claims to have killed more than one hundred people from 1964 -1986. His arrest in 1986, led to a conviction and two life sentences at be served at Trenton State Prison.

But that’s not the end … it’s the tip of the iceberg …

If the insider details of  true crime capture your attention, then the film, The Iceman will satisfy your interest. This captivating, intriguing, and swiftly paced crime thriller boasts a knockout performance by Michael Shannon, and Winona Ryder, Chris Evans and the rest of the cast will whet your true crime appetite and curiosity by the film’s end.

A film by emerging Israeli director Ariel Vromen (Danika, Rx), and co-written with Morgan Land, The Iceman is the chilling and harrowing tale of a steel nerved hitman and family man, who murders without emotion or regret, and is based on Anthony Bruno’s book, “he Iceman: The True Story of a Cold Bloodied Killer and the documentary (watch it below) The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer. 

What makes the Iceman’s story fascinating and curious, is how this fearless contract killer who committed these heinous crimes, got away with so many murders … for so many years.

As one might expect The Iceman is a film with strong violence, but  Director Vromen, does a fine job of  not being exploitive, or gratuitous  in the overkill.  Kuklinski murders by guns.  He murders by knife.  He murders by strangulation. He murders by cyanide and putting poison in victims’ food, while maintaining a placid relationship with his two daughters and wife. Startling is Shannon’s dead-eyed portrayal of Kuklinski’s blank coldness of mayhem one moment and the finessed warmth for his family in the next.

This was a mind made for murder. This is a mind of a duplicitous sociopath.

Convincing easily with his chilling character study, the grizzly voice Michael Shannon is dark, brooding, and unflappable in his  turn as Richard Kuklinski. As we see in The Iceman, he portrays a killer with a code (He draws the line at killing women and kids), and a killer with a personal motto – “Where there is a will there is a way,” he repeats throughout the film.

We’ve seen the intensity Michael Shannon brings to the many films where he’s left a memorable impression. Who can forget Shannon in Bug (2006), or the scene stealing moments with Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio in Revolutionary Road (2008), or his emotional fragility as the hallucinatory husband in Take Shelter (2011). And, his Van Alden character freak out scene on Boardwalk Empire will not soon be forgotten.

The Iceman  is another role, where I can’t think of any other actor who could bring the force to a scene and fill with the cool demeanor and menacing ease of Kuklinski like Shannon does. My favorite scene has to be the spirited, bounce step disco moves, the cool and leather jacketed Michael Shannon sways to in rhythm, as he makes his way across the dance floor dancing to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” and executing a clever kill.

Is there a more compelling, and complex character actor in television and film today? For my money, there’s not.

With the upcoming 2013 summer release of Man of Steele (where he plays General Zod), The Iceman and Mud theatrically released last month, Michael Shannon might become a household name.

The Iceman is a smartly cast film (several against type) with an incredible ensemble that includes three Academy Award nominees (Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, and James Franco), and  Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Stephen Dorff, and Robert Davi. 

The role of the wife is often under written with little room for a three dimensional “real” person to emerge. Let me tell you. Winona Ryder is surprisingly good, as the hitman’s wistful, slightly nervous, and unknowing ( to her husband’s criminal deeds) wife, Deborah. She holds her own, and goes toe to toe with Shannon, showing nuance, emotional dexterity, and striking character range. Ryder’s talent and early success are well documented, but it’s been a long time since she’s been as unforgettable. The writing for her character is strong, and the balance she gives to Shannon is central to the integrity of The Iceman.

Deborah , thinks her husband works dubbing cartoons for Disney, and she knows her husband has violent temper, (There is a heart-racing car chase scene where Kuklinski viciously pursues – with his terrified wife and kids in tow – after an insulting exchange with a passenger after a fender bender). But, she claims to have no clue that he’s leading a double life.

No judgement here, because that could be another entire review.

Chris Evans is no slouch either, giving an impressive performance as Mr. Freezy, the ice cream truck driver/ hired killer and Kuklinski’s eventual  partner in crime, and  who teaches him a thing or two about killing and body disposal methods. Put an actor in a wig, add a mustache, and then – transformation – what a difference. Gone are any veiled remnants of a super hero or the Captain America image. I’d like to see Evans make more acting choices in this challenging, character actor vein where the full ranges of his acting skills are on display.

Ray Liotta is Ray Liotta. You never know when he is going to snap.  He’s back in Good Fellas mafia fashion and he doesn’t disappoint, but he doesn’t add anything new with his performance in Iceman either. Still, there are some incredible moments of tension when he and Shannon share the screen.

James Franco in yet another quirky film role, plays an early Kuklinski victim. (This is not a giveaway. It’s used as a selling point in The Iceman trailer). David Schwimmer is unrecognizable with his 70’s moustache, ponytail, and a role so far from what one would expect from him that you literally might have to wait until the credits to know what character he plays.

The scenes with Stephen Dorf are telling and effective. He plays Kuklinski’s Trenton State imprisoned brother (for the murder of a twelve-year-old), and provides important insight to Richard Kuklinski’s back story – his early criminal acts, and the stories of childhood horror by his sadistic and abusive father.

Michael-Shannon (The-Iceman).
Michael-Shannon (Richard Kuklinski) in ‘The Iceman.’

What happens to Richard Kuklinski, and, how does he finally get caught? You’ll have to go see the movie.

Where there is a will there is a way.
Running Time: 106 minutes. Rated R.

Here are the showtimes for DC area theatres.

Contains strong violence, pervasive language, and some sexual content.


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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [email protected] [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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