Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Iceman (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes critiques this lurid true biopic of a ruthless Mafia hitman

Mob films have always been popular, not just starting with The Godfather films but all the way back to the original Scarface with Paul Muni playing the title character in 1932. America and the world over (myself included) seems to have a fascination with those who live outside the law. We don't know what it is that does fascinate us but we watch, never the less. This movie is one such story.

The Iceman tells the true story about Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer for the mob who was credited with over 100 kills. The Iceman refers to two traits; his ability to NEVER screw up a job; "Gotta keep up my reputation." When teamed with another killer (Chris Evans) he would put his victims on ice for months then dismember them, and dump them in the river. The idea was that the police could never fully find the time of death, conclusively. 

Now when I saw the previews for this film I must say I was interested (i.e. the fascination of mob films enticed me), however while watching The Iceman, I began to think my fascination must be waning. This film features the very lowest that humanity has to offer. Yes, it is a true story, but do we really need another film 'glorifying' the absolute trash of humanity? okay...I don't wish to get preachy!!

Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski with unyielding brutality that makes him hard to even understand as a character. There is nothing redeeming about him. He has a happy marriage (Winona Ryder looking great, as always) and two beautiful daughters and they are the only things in life he cares about; that and his freedom. 

The film opens with his courtship of Deborah (Ryder) and their lives beginning as a couple. "What do you do for a living?" she asks over coffee. "I dub Disney Movies," is his response. He actually dubs porno films, but it shows how everything in his life is a lie. "Really? Which one is your favorite?" the enamored Deborah quizzes. "Cinderella," Richard says. This starts the whole double life that Richard has with his family. Nothing he ever tells them is the truth and sooner or later his world starts to implode with his family in the cross hairs. 

To familiarize myself with who the Iceman was as a real person I watched some videos on YouTube, and Michael Shannon has his performance perfect. It is almost scary. The real Richard was a lying, heartless, murdering thug with no redeeming qualities. With the exception of his own family, he cared for no one or anyone; even himself. Where does a man go to immerse himself in such darkness? The Iceman does not really delve into this question other than to show him as the sociopath and/or a psychopath. He is sociable enough to get by in everyday life but at his heart is a vicious killer looking for his next "paycheck". 

Still, The Iceman is a riveting but ultimately a one note film about some of the lowest dregs of humanity. Once it gets past setting up Shannon's performance, the rest of the film is filled with double crosses and setups we have seen before. The supporting cast is decent with Ray Liotta and David Schwimmer (yes, THAT David Schwimmer) as boss and underling over Richard, as well as Robert Davi, Stephen Dorff and James Franco who are in the film a few scenes but give it some depth. Chris Evans as Mr. Freeze is a bit of a hoot as a well rounded hit man who is able to kill you a hundred different ways and you would never see it coming. 

The Iceman was directed and co-written by Ariel Vromen along with Morgan Land and they based their script on the book "The Iceman:The True Story Of A Cold Blooded Killer" and the documentary "The Iceman Tapes:Conversations With A Killer" created by James Thebaut. Vromen's 2 previous films he directed have been average at best; Danika with Marisa Tomei was a depressing mess with only Tomei shining as a disturbed mother, and Rx about a group of kids trying to smuggle drugs across the Mexican/United States border that ends in disaster. Both films were not awful but, watched once and you won't ever remember either one. 

In compariosn, The Iceman is a lurid, pulpy piece of film making  not horribly original other than the main character and Shannon's performance and the terrific score by Haim Mazar. I guess in that instance, I would recommend this film on those merits, however this is not for everyone. If you are fascinated by the mob and the lowlifes that populate it (like me, kind of) then this film might appeal to you. But, honestly how many more scum bags can Hollywood turn into heroes before we say, "Enough is enough already?" The Iceman is a mixed bag but I am going to give it a marginal positive review on the film's strong points. Most people will not be disappointed. The Iceman-*** out of 4.


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