The Iceman, based on a true story of contracted killer Richard Kuklinski, is an acting tour de force that has easily the best acting performance of the year.
To talk about The Iceman, you must first talk about Michael Shannon’s performance. Shannon gives a flawless portrayal of Kuklinski, a man who is said to have murdered over 100 people for the Gambino crime family over several decades. Shannon fully immerses himself into the role and becomes Kuklinski with a subtle brilliance. It is very early, and most Oscar-worthy films have not yet been released, but it would be a shame if Shannon is not nominated for Best Actor, let alone be a front runner to win.
Shannon is not alone in his brilliance here. Winona Ryder is also excellent as Deborah, Richard’s completely unsuspecting wife and mother to his two children. The scene where she finally confronts Richie over his increasingly erratic behavior is some of the best work of her career. Also giving the performance of his career is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Evans plays Mr. Freezy (Mr Frostee apparently didn’t clear permissions), another contracted killer who offers some very dark comedic relief that the film sorely needed. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them also take Supporting Acting nominations, at least in the Independant Spirit Awards if not the Oscars. Last but not least, also giving a very surprising performance is David Schwimmer as Roy Demeo’s (Ray Liotta) protegé Josh Rosenthal. Ponytail and ridiculous facial hair aside, Schwimmer is excellent here.
So how about the film? Director Ariel Vromen does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of the ’70s and ’80s, both in set design and tone. Bobby Bukowski does a great job with the cinematography as well, giving the film a very ’70s vibe throughout. If there is a minor flaw, the pacing could be a bit better, as you will definitely feel every second of the rather short 105 minute running time.
The real story here though is Shannon. In the best scene of the movie, Kuklinski is sent to kill Marty Freeman (James Franco) and is irritated by Freeman’s panicked praying. A story told by the real life Kuklinski, he then gives God 5 minutes to answer Freeman’s prayers and stop Kuklinski from killing him. He doesn’t. Kuklinski is very uncharacteristically angered by Freeman, and then also lets a young girl who witnessed the murder escape because it violates his code of no women and no children. The showing of emotion is the beginning of Kuklinski’s downfall, and Shannon just nails it perfectly.
The most disturbing part of the film is not all the violence, although there is quite a bit of it here, but the contrast between that and the scenes with Kuklinski and his wife. Richard goes through great pains to not allow his wife to know anything about him. While he is pirating pornography, he tells Deborah that he is distributing cartoons. When he becomes a very successful hitman, she believes he is making money watching currency exchanges on the stock market. He is a very loving husband and father who painstakingly hides who he is to try and protect them from himself. At the beginning of the film he is asked if he has any regrets in all the murders he committed. He doesn’t. He only regrets hurting his family.
Conclusion [9 out of 10]
Acting alone, this film is easily a 10. This is a Daniel Day Lewis level of acting here by Shannon, and every other actor holds their own. The pacing is a little slow, and there are a lot of liberties taken in telling a movie version of Kuklinski’s life, but it is a fantastic character study of a man who can kill so many people and have no remorse of it, yet still come home to be a loving husband and father.