Film review: The Iceman (15)

FOR Richard Kuklinski, murder was part of doing business, a way of covering up crimes with guns, knives and baseball bats, a ticket to providing his wife and three children with a comfortable life in the suburbs.

The Iceman (15)

Director: Ariel Vromen

Running time: 105 minutes

Star rating: * * *

He killed alone, and as part of a team. He kept victims frozen in an ice-cream truck to disguise the time of death. It’s the reason the police called him The Iceman, and you should feel rather chilled too. The real Kuklinski claimed to have killed between 100 and 250 people, and he’s played here by Take Shelter’s Michael Shannon, with an expression chipped into living rock with an axe. Wadded with period facial hair, he executes murders with pitiless determination, simultaneously maintaining a cuddly domesticated life with rollerskating, dinner parties, and poems on birthdays.

For over 30 years he was not just The Iceman, but The Compartmentaliser, able to lead two separate lives. In the early 1960s, he has an awkward date with Deborah (Winona Ryder), which improves when he tells her that she’s “prettier than Natalie Wood”, and that he holds a job with Disney, dubbing cartoons. In fact at this point he works for the mob, pirating porn, but after impressing a local crime boss by keeping cool when a gun in thrust in his face, he becomes a personal hitman for Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta).

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Directed and co-written by Ariel Vromen, the film crisscrosses between Kuklinski’s two lives, occasionally dropping fragmented hints about Richie’s brutal childhood at the hands of an abusive father. Like all gangsters, Kuklinski has a code: he doesn’t kill women and children, although he doesn’t seem to have thought about the women and children left bereaved by him.

Shannon is terrific to watch – although if you’ve seen him in Boardwalk Empire, you’ll already be familiar with his Lurch-like mien, the clenched jaw, and the bug eyes. Other characters feel even more familiar: does Liotta play anything but paranoid Family men nowadays?

By the second hour, the deaths feel not just ruthless and remorseless, but also relentless. Kuklinski goes freelance with another, chattier, killer (Chris Evans) who owns the ice-cream van and they finesse their murders with cyanide and mutilations that fit the style of another existing serial killer. James Franco turns up for one effectively cruel scene as a man who prays for divine intervention, prompting Kuklinski to give him half an hour to see whether God steps in, but ultimately The Iceman isn’t so much a movie as a treadmill with corpses.

Oddly it doesn’t mention the violence endured by the real Mrs Kuklinski at her husbands’ hands, including three broken noses, being run down with a car, and being smothered. Dramatically, Vromen may prefer to maintain a marked contrast between workaday killer and devoted family man, but there’s already too much mythological neatness in thuggish wiseguy movies. «

On general release from Friday