The Iceman is a textbook case of how to take a fascinating true story and make it far duller than it actually ought to be. It can’t quite decide whether it wants to ditch the facts and just be a rollicking story or stick close to the truth in order go deep into reality – and its indecision results in a film that doesn’t seem to know quite what it’s for, other than killing a lot of people.
The film is about Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a porn film lab tech with a reputation for dealing with those who annoy him with extreme prejudice. He’s hired by Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) to turn his violent predilections into a job as a contract killer for the mob. This works well for a while, until mob politics pushes him to one side, at which point he teams up with the psychopathic Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans), who teaches him what becomes his trademark, freezing bodies to hide the time of death from the authorities.
While all this is going on, Kuklinski has a wife (Winona Ryder) and two children at home who know nothing about what Richard actually does, as they think he works in finance.
The film certainly lays on the violence, but it often feels like it doesn’t quite know why and it can’t really decide who its main character is. Over the running time it offers a lot of hints, but rather than working to build a picture of possibilities, it feels that it just doesn’t know. You can understand its indecision, as Kuklinski was a complicated and somewhat confusing character in real life, but it robs the film of some of its power. Michael Shannon does his best in the lead role, but his mix of quiet contemplation with explosive moments would only fully work if the script had a stronger sense of the character.
Most believe Kuklinski was a fully-fledged psychopathic serial killer, who just happened to luck into being able to murder people as a job. The film does suggest this is true, but doesn’t properly articulate it, while also leaving his horribly abusive upbringing as something that vaguely floats about in the background rather than something that informs the character.
Where the movie works best is in dealing with the idea that Kuklinski murdered by day, but when he went home he was a family man with a wife and kids who knew nothing about his real job. Winona Ryder does a great job as the unwitting wife, although even here the film feels like it doesn’t quite know what it doing (and leaves out the fact Kuklinski was violent at home, beating his wife whether she knew he was a killer or not).
Chris Evans has fun being almost unrecognisable as the psychopathic Mr. Freezy, revelling playing against type and showing that he’s actually a pretty good actor when given the chance. Indeed there were moments when I thought I’d have preferred a movie about him.
Overall Verdict: The Iceman isn’t a dreadful film, but it’s such an indecisive one that it robs a fascinating story of the power it could have had. It make killing seems dull and repetitive simply because it can’t decide what its characters actions mean.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac