Sometimes a film that may seem derivative from other, better films can be totally redeemed by just one thing. In the case of The Iceman, it may remind you of Goodfellas, but what makes it almost as good as that classic mob movie is the stunning performance of Lexington, Kentucky native Michael Shannon. Shannon is no slouch as an actor, and was Oscar nominated for his supporting role in Revolutionary Road. But in The Iceman he gives a so-far career best performance. Based on the true story of Richie Kuklinski, a notorious contract killer and family man, Shannon nails this complex personality who not only loves his wife and daughters, and is a good father and husband, but when he goes to work it’s as a mob hit man.
When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.
Since a lot of The Iceman is set in the 1970s, the film also has the look and aura of some of the best crime films of that decade, such as Serpico and The French Connection. You’ll even get a chuckle or two revisiting the clothing and hairstyles of that era, some of which might be considered crimes as well. The dark cinematography by Bobby Bukowski is outstanding.
And even though The Iceman is derivative, it is elevated to being much better that it may seem by the performances. If it weren’t for the fact the Academy is notorious for ignoring low-budget independent films, especially those that are crime oriented, Michael Shannon should be a natural choice for a Best Actor Oscar next year. But as long as he keeps giving performances this good, that honor will eventually come his way. Winona Ryder gives her best performance in ages as Shannon’s wife and mother of his children. And, as the crime boss who doles out Shannon’s workload, Ray Liotta is spot-on perfect, even though his presence does make you think of Goodfellas maybe a little too much. Chris Evans does a 180 from his Captain America persona to portray a rival assassin. And speaking of 180s, David Schwimmer, from the hit TV series Friends, is almost unrecognizable as Liotta’s flunkie.
Israeli-born director Ariel Vromen does a decent job behind the camera, but seems to lack the edge that the directors of other films of this genre seem to have. He needs more homework before tackling another assignment. But no matter, as The Iceman is fully in the hands of the assigned actors, and they all earn their kudos.
And, no, Shannon’s character isn’t called “The Iceman” because of his steely gaze or detached demeanor. It’s because he once froze a body for two years. Chilling indeed.
Even if the subject matter is not to your taste, The Iceman is well worth seeing for the excellent performances.
The R-rated The Iceman is now showing on a regular schedule at Clifton’s Esquire Theatre, and is showing once a day at AMC Newport on the Levee.