Thursday, May 23, 2013


Written by Ariel Vromen & Morgan Land

Directed by Ariel Vromen

Where & When:  The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. May 13, 2013 7:10PM

Richard Kuklinski was a cold-blooded killer who committed homicide not only whenever he flew in to a blind rage but it was also his secret profession. He worked as a hit man for the mob for thirty years and is rumoured to have killed between one hundred to two hundred and fifty people (with the exact number unclear due to Kuklinski's fuzzy recollection) before his arrest in 1986. What actually makes Kuklinski's story stand out is how he managed to live two very separate lives for many years without raising suspicion. He was seen publicly as an unassuming family man living in a quiet suburban New Jersey neighborhood while no one had the slightest inkling that he was responsible for whipping up a deadly path of destruction in the city, leaving a long trail of bloody corpses not far behind.

"The Iceman", a disturbing but thoroughly fascinating crime thriller based on actual events by writer/director Ariel Vromen, has the intense Michael Shannon playing the contract killer as it recounts his life from his early days of working for the DeMeo mob pirating porn before being enlisted to become the preferred assassin of the leader, Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta).

Kuklinski was very good at his job due to his ability to feel nothing or show any emotion no matter how much someone might beg him to spare their life. The film seems to indicate that the many years of severe physical and mental abuse by the hands of his parents was the likely catalyst that lead the young Kuklinski to lose touch of his compassion and basic humanity. His younger sibling, Joseph (Stephen Dorff) had already become a casualty, serving a life-prison sentence for the rape and murder of a twelve-year old girl but Richard thinks he can do better with his life. He gets the courage to ask out Deborah (Winona Ryder), a young woman who he thinks is prettier than actress, Natalie Wood. She finds his dry wit and quiet demeanor charming and comforting. The couple are soon married, have two daughters and begin a tranquil family life with Deborah believing her loving husband to be some sort of an investment banker. Married life, however, doesn't quell his blood thirst in the slightest but it seems to inspire Kuklinski to become much more methodical in his work.

Kuklinski used many creative methods to kill his victims to help minimize attention by law-enforcement. He was introduced to the idea of freezing the bodies so that the time of death couldn't be identified by another hired assassin known as "Mr. Softee" (an unrecognizable Chris Evans) as an ice-cream truck was his preferred mode of transportation. This helped earn Kuklinski the nickname, "The Iceman" and during this time he's also shown the uses of cyanide as it's difficult to detect in a forensic test.

As what eventually happens in many organized crime groups due to ego and greed, the DeMeo mob implodes with Kuklinski having to lay low for a while. Extremely unhappy about not being able to do his job, "the Iceman" begins to rage against his friends and family with the serial killer recklessly executing some off-target individuals. This ultimately leads to his own inevitable and well-deserved fate.

This is Ariel Vromen's fourth feature film and although his previous works haven't garnered much attention, that should change with his latest, "The Iceman". Stories involving the mafia have become fairly commonplace in cinema and Kuklinski's remarkable tale has been covered in books and documentaries but Mr. Vromen has managed to keep the tension high and the tragic events compelling without feeling overly familiar. There is plenty of blood and violence to be found but the focus is placed on the psychology of this damaged soul and his internal struggle with his desire to live a predictable normal life while fighting with an equally strong desire to participate in a savage occupation that he seems tailor-made for which brings a brutal end to human lives.

At six feet and four inches and with his dead-eyed stare, Michael Shannon is most certainly an intimidating presence and that's what he brings to his performance as Kuklinski. While Mr. Shannon is a reliably good actor and quite impressive here but he's unable to overcome the lingering feeling of how this intense, secretive, quick-tempered brooder was ever convincingly able to fool anybody in to believing that he was some sort of honest, upstanding citizen.

With her career derailed due to the distractions involving her criminal conviction for shoplifting, Ms Ryder has finally gotten a role that serves as a reminder to what a fine talent she has remained. Although she is now forty-one, Ryder still doesn't look old enough to be playing anyone mother but the actress is highly convincing in her supporting turn as the trusting wife in love with an enigma. While Mrs Kuklinski might display deep affection for the man in her life but is unable to always conceal the fear in her eyes as she's fully aware of how unstable and dangerous he can be at times. It's remains questionable whether this woman was completely unaware of  her husband's criminal activities or his involvement with the mafia but I'm sure whatever the case, she thought it best to remain silent for the sake of her children and her own well-being.

While "The Iceman" might not be in the same league as some other films dealing with the mob underworld such as "The Godfather" trilogy, Brian DePalma's "Scarface" or the Scorsese classics, "Good Fellas" and "Casino" but this gritty film certainly holds it's own. While we are given insight in to why Kuklinski, who found an outlet for his pent-up rage, was so driven to the endless carnage and destruction but it's less clear on the reason he needed to drag his innocent family, that he seemed to love and care for, down with him.