The Iceman

A finely chiseled thriller that reflects the cold-blooded efficiency of its murderous subject in every frame and detail, “The Iceman” expertly unpacks the story of frighteningly prolific contract killer Richard Kuklinski. Holding its own among the numerous films and series about mobsters, this latest effort from Israeli-born director Ariel Vromen is a model of lean, incisive filmmaking fronted by a commanding Michael Shannon.

Dubbed “the Iceman” for his practice of freezing his victims’ bodies so as to confuse the time of death, Kuklinski became an active associate of various East Coast crime families in the late 1950s; by conservative estimates, he killed more than 100 people before his arrest in 1986. The loosely fictionalized script by Vromen and Morgan Land spans roughly two decades, dramatizing not only his grisly day-to-day activities but their gradual toll on his family, an effect comparable to that of slow-drip poison.

Predicated on the notion that Kuklinski’s wife and kids were the only people in the world he cared about, the story opens in 1964 with a first date between tough, terse Richie (Shannon) and sweetly unsuspecting Deborah (Winona Ryder). Holding down a job with a small-time smut racket, Richie has no problem slitting the throat of anyone foolish enough to annoy him, a gift that soon places him in the employ of powerful crime boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta).

Skipping ahead a few months or years at a time, punctuated by regular eruptions of blood and gunfire, the picture amounts to more of a highly focused crime yarn than an under-the-skin case study. Yet without sacrificing tautness or momentum, Vromen and Land sneak in any number of telling psychological details. Above all, the story pivots on Richie’s extreme aversion to hurting women and children, a protective instinct that largely governs his relationship with his wife and daughters.

It should surprise no one by now that Shannon, so good at conveying inner torment and outward menace, is ideally cast as an utterly remorseless killing machine. Even superficially pleasant interactions barely conceal a seething rage that explodes on occasion, to mesmerizing effect.

The Iceman

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