Michael Shannon freezes the blood as the ruthless real-life hitman Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski – or, Richie to his wife and kids – in this respectable entry into the inundated, yet ever increasing canon of mafia-flavoured crime thrillers.
Premise-wise, we’re in familiar territory: a criminal struggles to maintain a law-abiding façade with his family as his atrocities mount. Thankfully, however, what The Iceman lacks in originality it compensates for with an impressive central performance. Shannon (who, despite a rather extensive list of feature film appearances, is still probably best known for his work on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) is suitably compelling as the eponymous killer who racked up a purported three-figure body count between the 1950s and 1980s.
Unnervingly stoic in the face of a gun barrel, Shannon is never anything other than utterly convincing as a man who’ll murder without hesitation. In one standout scene, he mocks a victim’s instinctive call for help by encouraging them to keep on praying to God. With no celestial intervention forthcoming, he chillingly surmises: “I’m not feeling anything”.
As with many films that choose to depict recorded events, The Iceman suffers from the familiar double-edged sword of wanting to tell an engaging true life story without taking dramatic liberties. As a result, there is nothing here that hasn’t been seen before – all the tropes of a mobster drama are present and correct: threats are made against Kuklinski’s family, there is fallout over Kuklinski’s refusal to shoot a female witness (Kuklinski apparently had a “no children, no women” rule; sounds familiar?), and, of course, Ray Liotta.
Kudos, then, to writer/director Ariel Vronmen who – in possible recognition of this fact – ensures that Shannon is seldom off-screen for long. In addition to Shannon, he’s been able to secure an interesting supporting cast: Winona Ryder plays Kuklinski’s beleaguered wife, Chris Evans turns up as an almost-unrecognisable, heavily bearded partner-in-crime, and, best of all, David Schwimmer appears as a wonderfully oleaginous criminal underling.
It’s far from groundbreaking, but entirely watchable.
The Iceman is released in cinemas on 7th June 2013.
Watch the trailer for The Iceman here: