The life of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski is a tough sell on the big screen, especially his sudden introduction to his profession.
Michael Shannon nails that pivotal moment as well as every other aspect of Kuklinski’s callous calling in the The Iceman.
The actor, soon to be seen as General Zod in the Superman reboot Man of Steel, captures a man who loved his family but couldn’t spare a scintilla of emotion toward the men he rubbed out.
Shannon’s Kuklinski is working as an engineer at an adult film warehouse when he meets mobster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), an encounter that changes the course of Kuklinski’s life. DeMeo forces him to kill a homeless man on a whim, and the efficiency with which Kuklinski carries out the task starts his career in contract killing.
Kuklinski becomes an integral part of DeMeo’s crime family, handling dirty matters with professionalism and complete detachment. He’s also adept at keeping his gig secret from his adoring wife (Winona Ryder) and two young daughters, the only people he can open up to in something resembling real emotion.
The life of a mob killer offers a short, definite honeymoon period, as any gangster film will tell you. Soon, Kuklinski is dealing with fellow assassins like the one portrayed by an unrecognizable Chris Evans, as well as a fellow mob boss memorably detailed by Robert Davi.
Davi isn’t granted the same screen time as Shannon, but the famous film tough guy’s work burns deeply into the story all the same.
The Iceman doesn’t hint at any broader themes about Kuklinski’s soulless nature, and it lacks the mesmerizing beats that made Goodfellas an instant classic. The contract killer’s life also didn’t provide for a Hollywood style final act, but Shannon’s inscrutable performance still makes The Iceman a worthy addition to the mobster film canon.