The Iceman

May 5th, 2013

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The Iceman

The true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 7.2/10 (958 voted)

Director: Ariel Vromen

The true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.

Writers: ,

Taglines: Loving husband. Devoted father. Ruthless killer.

Release Date:

Filming Locations: Downtown, Los Angeles, California, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

James Franco and Benicio Del Toro were originally cast in the lead roles. Franco was replaced by Chris Evans and Del Toro was replaced by Ray Liotta. See more »

User Review

Decent gangster flick, minus the charm and depth of Goodfellas

Rating: 7/10

Iceman Ariel Vromen's The Iceman might succeed too well in depicting its subject, mob hit-man Richard Kuklinski. I saw this film recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was lucky enough to hear Vromen's Q&A afterwards. This is a solid gangster movie if you're an aficionado of the genre, but because it doesn't probe very far beneath the surface of this true story, it fails to reach the status of a great film. In fact, I think much of the audience left the theatre with the impression that this was mostly a meditation on mental illness.

Kuklinski, Vromen told the audience, was a sociopath. As such, he had no conscience, and was able to kill at least 100 people without worrying too much about it. He also had no fear – hence the nickname 'iceman.' Michael Shannon, who plays Kuklinski, does such a good job of keeping his face clenched like a fist that we can't really empathize with him. The heart of the movie is supposed to be the dichotomy between the icy hit-man who never gets rattled and has no remorse, and the family man who only wants to take care of his family. Vromen told us that this is something we can probably all identify with – the hardnosed lawyer or business man who wrecks peoples' careers and fortunes by weekday, and the loving husband and father by weekend, or some variation on this theme. Vromen's somewhat incongruous examples from his own life were playing backgammon one minute on an Israeli air force base, and flying into Lebanon the next to witness all the horrors of war – and going to law school by day and being a DJ at raves by night. But Kuklinski seems so brutal, and so filled with rage that we never really believe that he cares about his family all that much. In fact there just isn't that much time devoted to scenes of Kuklinski with his family, and so this central theme never really gets off the ground.

Vromen seemed to want to portray Kuklinski as something more than a sociopath, though, through certain scenes I won't discuss here, and during the Q&A said that in fact, based on the outtakes he'd seen from the HBO documentary, Kuklinskli could be quite charming. Between takes, Vromen said, the real Kuklinski told the story of dropping his daughter off at Catholic school and parking on one of the sisters' spots. She told him not to do this, and he whispered that God had told him to do this. Vromen wondered why HBO hadn't included this in the documentary, which made me wonder why he didn't include it in his own film. Perhaps Kuklinski was really charming, but this just doesn't come through in the film, but would have made it far more interesting. In any case, although I'm not a psychiatrist, it seems to me that it's common for sociopaths to be charming in any case, so this doesn't make the character much more complex. Tony Soprano, if we can compare fictional characters with real ones, was a charming sociopath, but because he somehow charmed us, and his psychiatrist, he was more compelling.

Another underdeveloped theme in the movie is that of chance and religion. Early on Kuklinski tells his future wife (Winona Ryder, who does a great job here) that he doesn't believe in chance. But he only becomes a contract killer when Ray Liotta's character, minor mob-boss Roy Demeo, sees how coolly Kuklinski reacts when attacked by another gangster. Roy closes down Kuklinski's porn editing studio and gives him a choice between unemployment and becoming a killer. Kuklinski thus seems to some extent to have been forced into the job. He was 'just trying to take care of his family.' This is pretty thin, though, and I think we have to see him as fully responsible for his actions. As a side note, when Vromen was asked by an audience member where the moral center of the film was, he hemmed and hawed a bit and told us that the moral of the story was that we should treat each other better. In other words, he either didn't understand the question (despite his having attended law school) or hadn't given much thought to what should have been a central theme of the film. There are some hints (which again, I won't discuss) that Kuklinski thinks that God is dead and so everything is permitted, but again, this is never really developed, and so is not very thought-provoking.

As I said at the beginning, this is, despite everything, a good movie to watch if you've seen Goodfellas too many times to enjoy it anymore, but want something similar. The Iceman, though, really does feel derivative (not only in casting Liotta) of Goodfellas, but without its charm.

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