It’s the quiet ones, they say, that you should be the most afraid of. Richard Kuklinski, the notorious mafia hitman who claimed he killed Jimmy Hoffa and murdered around 200 people, was also a noted family man with a wife and three children. By the time he was arrested, he’d kept law enforcement at bay for years by perfecting his skills and covering his tracks. Dubbed The Iceman, Kuklinski froze his victims and thawed them out months later, leaving forensics experts scratching their heads trying to pin down a time of death. The name was fitting also, because for others, it was the façade he displayed on the job — a demeanor of calm as he perfected his killing techniques.
Michael Shannon leads an amazing cast in a character piece examining the duality and contradictions of a character so in control of his emotions in the face of fear but unhinged in regards to social norms and restraint. At first employed by one mobster, Ray Liotta as Roy Demeo, Kuklinski’s lavish life fuels his desire to take on more work, even if it means betraying his superiors and friends. As paranoia overcomes him, Kuklinski begins to eliminate people from his life one by one, backing himself into a corner to his own detriment, eventually severing the cord between himself and the ones he loves — his family.
In many ways, The Iceman is a period piece set in the 60s that stretches into the 80s. Dress, vehicles, music, and a television news report about Vietnam set the tone for a film that follows a murderer’s trail shooting, strangling, and poisoning his victims without joy or any other particular emotion. Shannon plays Kuklinski straight-faced and intense. Each scene he exists in feels suspenseful and taut, as if a powder keg were ready to explode at any second. Family scenes show how The Iceman relates to his family, and Winona Ryder who plays Deborah Pellicotti is stellar as the gentle, unassuming, and unknowing wife. Kuklinski walked a fine line to keep his family and the law enforcement from figuring his identity as a hitman/serial killer, and he was a pioneer in the field of murder. By adopting other killers’ practices and honing their techniques, Kuklinski murdered using cyanide in sprays, and the audacity he displayed by placing oil drums filled with bodies on sidewalks showed his confidence. While the movie tries to capture as much of the details as possible, the story becomes muddied by disjointed plot points and sudden jumps. The Iceman worked his trade for years, ultimately becoming unraveled by his own fears. The film never seems fully put together, and while the performances onscreen of its ensemble cast sizzles, the story feels like a bunch of pieces held together by celluloid.