The Iceman: Michael Shannon Shines in a Leaden Mob-Cliché Fest
Michael Shannon, with his unparalleled track record of convincingly playing freaks and psychos, is a perfect choice to play Richard Kuklinski, the real-life mafia hit man who murdered more than a hundred people. Shannon doesn't fall prey to the obvious and portray Kuklinski as a man with two nuanced sides—he's a one-sided sociopath. Though Kuklinski has a wife and daughters, Shannon never tries to convince us that he's a normal guy. This is an opportunistic maniac who probably would've wound up a serial killer if the mob hadn't offered him a good-paying job first.
Unfortunately, Shannon's supporting cast leaves him adrift. Winona Ryder gives a hapless, Lifetime-caliber supporting performance as Kuklinski's wife, and Ray Liotta, as Kuklinski's boss, is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of himself in every other mob movie he's ever starred in. Only Chris Evans is playing on Shannon's level, in the guise of an even-more-twisted killer who partners up with Kuklinski. As Mr. Freezy (the killer operates out of an ice-cream truck), Evans is virtually unrecognizable as the man who's played Captain America twice. Freezy kills because he enjoys it, while Kuklinski is "merely" scratching an itch.
One wonders what could have happened if The Iceman had started with a decent script, rather than the leaden mob clichéfest that director and cowriter Ariel Vromen saddled his production with. Vromen's directorial eye for his crew's excellent production values (the wardrobe and facial hair are about as delightfully appropriate to the movie's 1960s and '70s setting as you can get without crossing over into parody) almost makes up for his deficiencies in the screenwriting department. Almost. But Evans and Shannon both put on such an amazing show that you can't help but wonder what would have happened if the rest of the movie had managed to keep up with them.