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The Iceman

What She said:

She

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not typically a huge fan of mob crime thrillers.  There’s a tendency for them to move all over the place to the point where I’m confused and dizzy.  Add to that the horrible Italian stereotypes, which I find personally offensive, and I have to say that they’re often not my favorite.

But The Iceman claims to be based on the real life of notorious mob hitman Richard Kuklinski.  That’s right, this fella is Polish, not Italian.  What a breath of fresh air.  He’s still characteristically North Jersey and as corrupt as they come.  So Kuklinski was quite popular in the 1960s.  He was an efficient and trustworthy hitman.  They say that over the course of his career he killed at least 100 people.  The best part—Kuklinski managed to successfully hide his profession from his family, including his wife and children.  It helps that his wife, Deborah, is as naïve as they come.  Kuklinski was able to keep her in the dark for years.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and ultimately Kuklinski’s life crumbled around him.  He was essentially laid off from his job, but also forbidden to seek employment as a hitman elsewhere.  This drove Kuklinski mad, because at his core he has the psychopathic mentality of a serial killer.  Kuklinski goes against his boss’ orders and that starts his long and painful decline until he is caught and exposed.  I guess the moral of the story here is that crime doesn’t pay, no matter how much you build your life around it.

As is the case with all “based on a true story” movies, I have no idea how much of this is real.  But kudos to Richard Kuklinski for creating such a life for himself.  He managed to work his way up to become a middle-class family man by simply killing and killing some more.  Of course, it’s not so easy money, and there’s that whole going to jail and going to hell thing to worry about.  But he builds a pretty decent life for his wife and kids. 

The overall story of this movie is fairly simple and easy to understand.  There aren’t too many players here, and so even a novice to mob movies is able to tag along for the ride.  Like all things mob, it’s really about not double-crossing anyone and keeping your boss happy.  Kuklinski’s boss, Roy DeMeo is unfortunately moody and somewhat paranoid.  He actually doesn’t seem too ruthless by mob standards, but he has a tendency to get a little touchy about things.  That does not work in Kuklinski’s favor.

The Iceman

I enjoyed the acting in this film.  Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski, and he’s as cold blooded as they come.  Winona Ryder is the innocent Deborah Kuklinski.  Ray Liotta is DeMeo, and he turns in a standard performance for him.  He’s part of that list of actors who automatically gets a call whenever a mob movie is about the enter production.  Then there are the actors that I was not expecting to see, but who I thoroughly enjoyed.  David Schwimmer plays screw-up Jewish mob wannabe, Josh Rosenthal.  He’s like a son to DeMeo, but also makes his life extremely difficult.  And Chris Evans, if you can recognize him, plays Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge, a non-affiliated contract killer who works out of an ice cream truck.  Mr. Freezy is actually quite funny, because he’s a sick, sick man one moment, and the next he’s literally selling ice cream to little kids.  You’ll also see appearances from Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s imprisoned brother, and James Franco, who is sort of a blink and you’ll miss him character.

I guess my main gripe with this movie is that Kuklinski is so cold-blooded in this film that it actually blows my mind that his family did not suspect him at all.  I mean, how dumb can you be?  I wouldn’t even want to be alone with him, EVER.  He shows no warmth at all, and so either the depiction is somewhat off, or Deborah Kuklinski and her children are the worst judges of character to ever walk this planet.  More than likely, the issue here is that Kuklinski’s character was written too one-dimensionally to accurately show that family-man edge that supposedly existed in the guy.  I don’t know.  But on screen, he just comes across as cold and kill-driven.  Kuklinski reminded me greatly of the character of Dexter Morgan, except far less contemplative.  And that’s a great loss for this film.  In general, the characters are just empty shells, with very little explanation of their thoughts or motivations.

But honestly, this film is not too bad.  It’s actually pretty interesting, even without that extra level of depth.  The subject matter primed this film for potential greatness, but it’s a little too shallow to really achieve that.  However, the film is good enough for a Saturday night, and is definitely worth the rental.

Thumbs 75 percent up.

The Iceman

What he said:

He

I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with it – or even seek it out a lot – but I do enjoy a good documentary, movie, or show (fictional or non-fictional) about some of the darker members of our species. It’s not uncommon for me to watch shows like The First 48, City Confidential, or some prison-related documentary. I find it interesting to see the warped places a human mind can go. Sometimes it is a little touch to watch, but interesting to learn how and why people rationalize the terrible things they do.  

The Iceman

I had known who Richard Kuklinski was for several years. This movie not the first time I heard his name. I read several articles about him and saw some interviews, but not for years. I hadn’t heard his name for some time and when this movie came up, I was reminded of his story.

The details of his story a little sketchy, because once he was caught and placed in prison, Kuklinski was known for telling stories. One of those stories was that he claimed responsibility for the death of Jimmy Hoffa. Another one of those stories was that he killed his one-time boss and mafia member, Roy DeMeo. Authorities say both claims are untrue. What is known about him is that he was indeed a serial killer, very likely a mafia a hitman, and his family was seemingly unaware of either one of these pieces of information.

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) has a job dubbing bootleg copies of pornographic movies for a local crime family. His wife thinks he makes copies of Disney cartoons. The guy he indirectly works for is Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta). After an encounter with him, Demeo decides to give Richard a job. He notices that Richard has a particularly cold demeanor and has no qualms about taking a life. Thus begins his career as a mafia hitman.

Richard begins to earn a lot of money in his new career and as a result is able to provide very nicely for his family. Aside from the fact that he has a temper and the occasional outburst, there is no indication Richard is a serial killer and career criminal. When he was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted, Richard’s family claims to not have known anything about his double life.

The Iceman

So anyway, Richard builds of a reputation as a successful killer for DeMeo’s gang. He’s not official member of the family, but just works for them. When DeMeo’s gang gets a little too much attention from the authorities, he tells Kuklinski to lay low. Kuklinski says he still needs to earn money – and deep down needs to satisfy his need to kill – so he asks DeMeo if he can take some side jobs. DeMeo forbids, but Richard does it anyway.

He partners with another hitman named Robert Mr. Pronge (Chris Evans). Pronge is an interesting character. He has his own Mr. Frostee truck, which he actually sells ice cream out of, but it’s just a cover for his criminal activities. He’s a totally disgusting human being, but kind of funny. He has no problem killing anybody (even Kuklinski won’t kill women or children), but chooses a secret identity as an ice cream salesman who hangs around playgrounds and other areas kids frequent.   He gets steady work – and money – by partnering with Pronge, but has to make sure DeMeo doesn’t find out he’s working for other people.

I’ve read some of the reviews for this movie that claim the character doesn’t have much depth to him. From what I’ve seen of Kuklinski in interviews, neither did he. He’s got a very wooden and robotic personality, is completely unapologetic about what he’s done, and doesn’t hide the fact that he enjoyed experimenting with the various ways he killed people. So to me, Shannon played the character exactly the way the man really was. Kuklinski was not a flamboyant or charismatic personality, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t interesting. The way he talks about his crimes is so matter of fact it’s scary. The fact that he did these things is scary enough, but he shows no guilt or remorse, and talks about it like you’d talk about your day at the office to your spouse, that it will blow your mind. If you are interested in finding out more about him, here is one of his infamous interviews.

One part of the movie that really stands out to me is Chris Evans. I’ve never considered him a bad actor, but he showed more range than I have ever seen. He brought a lot to this role.

Ray Liotta is almost always good, especially in a role like this. The guy is excellent in crime dramas.

The world might never know how much of Kuklinski’s story is true, but that’s part my interest in it. Once he was imprisoned, Kuklinski granted many interviews. He was the subject of a few interviews on HBO, as well as a couple of books. It seems like he enjoyed the attention, which is probably why he embellished some of his claims.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on March 2, 2014.

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