Friday 15 January 2021

Movie Review: The Iceman (2012)

A crime drama based on actual events, The Iceman recounts the remarkable story of a mob enforcer who killed dozens of victims. While the events portrayed are astonishing, the central character remains necessarily aloof.

In New Jersey of 1964, brooding, large-framed and quiet Ritchie Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) marries the winsome and innocent Deborah (Winona Ryder). He holds a lowly job dubbing underground porn films, and commits a murder to avenge a petty insult. Local mobster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) is impressed with Ritchie's coolness under pressure and hires him as an enforcer. Over the next ten years Ritchie proves to be ruthlessly efficient at eliminating Roy's enemies.

Killing is his business, business is good, and the money rolls in. The family moves to a large house and Ritchie enrolls his two daughters in private school as they grow up clueless about their father's criminal endeavours. The good times are threatened when first Ritchie refuses to kill an innocent witness, then rival mobster Leonard Marks (Robert Davi) pressures Roy to clean house after a botched drug deal. Ritchie's income is cut off, forcing him to team up with independent assassin-for-hire Pronge (Chris Evans), who operates out of an ice cream truck.

An adaptation of a book by Anthony Bruno with a screenplay by Morgan Land and director Ariel Vromen, The Iceman is a trip to the dark business of transactional death among gangsters. Beautifully recreating the 1960s/1970s era, the film almost, but not quite, succeeds in humanizing a man capable of snuffing out life with startling ease. And while Kuklinski's story is nothing short of extraordinary, his soulless responsibility for countless abhorrent acts in a repugnant underworld envelops the narrative.

Vromen seeks hints of normalcy on the home front, and the separation between family and "work" provides moments of relief from all the gangland atrocities. Wife Deborah and daughters Betsy and Annabelle go through life with Kuklinski blissfully unaware of his profession. With Winona Ryder confined to a thankless role, Deborah's naivete reflects poorly on a woman simpleminded enough to never delve into her husband's reality (he easily sells her the fiction of being a currency trader). 

A few morsels of background are offered to explain the psychology of a taciturn assassin. Vromen uses one scene of Ritchie visiting his incarcerated brother to briefly expose the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a Polish immigrant father. Otherwise, it is left to Michael Shannon to occasionally express anguished love for his family with theatrical emotional outbursts.

The final act is an almost incomprehensible jumble of death. Ritchie is surrounded by threats from all sides, allies become double-crossing foes, and every scene features someone expiring. The carnage may accurately represent Ritchie's violent life, but as a cinematic experience, the impact is numbing.

The Iceman kills with metronomic regularity, his heart forever frigid.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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