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Having read Philip Carlo's biography of Richard Kuklinski 'The Ice Man:
Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer', I can say that Ariel Vromen's
big screen adaptation 'The Iceman' is a big disappointment. While the
author had a habit of repeating himself and some of Richard's
recollections seemed rather dubious in places, Carlo's lengthy book was
an engrossing read, I enjoyed it very much.
The problem with the film is that it's awfully constructed; it's all so terribly rushed. It fails to develop both the narrative and subsequently the character of Richard Kuklinski, glossing over almost everything that made the book such an interesting read. I appreciate that cramming one's life story into a screenplay can be a difficult task, however there are major flaws in the script that could have easily been avoided the screenplay should've been scrapped and completely rewritten.
His unspeakably awful childhood, for instance, is covered with an utterly perfunctory flashback scene that lasts for all of about 15 seconds. This is a fatal mistake, because it was his harrowing formative years that shaped Richard.
Stanley Kuklinski, his deeply cruel father, conditioned his son with the daily violence he inflicted upon his whole family. After Stanley dealt Richard's brother Florian a particularly malicious beating, he died from his injuries; the police were told that he fell down a flight of stairs. Richard's mother was also a callous, unpleasant person; despite her zealous religious values she had no qualms about battering her children with a broom handle. Even when Richard sought solitude in the placidity of his local church as an altar boy, nuns would punish him by splitting the skin on his knuckles with the edge of a metal ruler. All of the relentless anguish was compounded by his family's total destitution.
When 13-year-old Richard also became the victims of local bullies, it all became too much for him he beat one of them to death with a pole and discarded his body with brutal efficiency. Kuklinski recalled that it was at this moment that he discovered 'it was better to give than receive'. The passages of Carlo's book that cover his youth make for appalling reading; unfortunately none of this power is to be found in Ariel Vromen's rather boring adaptation.
Lacking also are the details of Kuklinski's career. The book recalls Kuklinski's methods of murder, the way he stalked his prey and his utter indifference towards his victims' suffering. Very little of this was explored in the film, we get little more than a brief montage of random people being blown away it's all so damn rushed and disorganised. Considering what a desperately violent individual Kuklinski was, 'The Iceman' is a rather neutered production. It has none of the visceral qualities that shock you like in 'The Godfather' and 'Goodfellas', mob films that draw you into their brutal world where death is merely 'business'.
Not only is the narrative woefully underdeveloped but it's also sheer fiction in many instances. Despite having great dramatic material to work with, Ariel Vromen and Morgan Land decided that their own version of events were better. Even the more faithful scenes have been tweaked and messed about with for no discernible reason. For example, Roy DeMeo didn't introduce Kuklinski to contract killing, he had already had a career with the DeCavalcante New Jersey crime family and had killed scores of people both professionally and privately. It also forgets to depict the savage beatings Richard used to give his wife Barbara and the pernicious effect it had on the family dynamic.
As you have probably heard, Michael Shannon is the highlight of the film. Much like the real man, he has a steely reserve and an explosive temper; he also resembles him in both appearance and speech. However, despite his best efforts, Shannon is completely let down by the script. While Shannon is indeed cold and calculated, the film fails to truly capture Kuklinski's aura of menace and particularly his notoriety in Mafiadom.
While the performances are fine, 'The Iceman' is quite frankly ruined by total underdevelopment. If I had entered the film with no knowledge of the man, I would have found it a boring, mediocre mob film. But knowing the depth and drama of this tragic figure means that 'The Iceman' is a complete misfire that deserves much more, ideally a remake. The only thing that it successfully achieved was the credibility of its period styling.
The Iceman was an enjoyable movie with very good acting, but ultimately
The Iceman, Richard Kuklinski, comes off as a very sympathetic character in the end, whereas in real life he truly was a cold emotionless and sociopathic killer. His family weren't so much cherished and loved as they were possessions that were his and his alone.
Much has been learned about sociopathy by interviewing Kuklinski, but unfortunately none of this was used to shape and portray his real character in the movie. Nonetheless, the movie is worth seeing, but more as entertainment than enlightenment about Kuklinski's life of crime.
Michael Shannon should get at least an Academy Award for his
performance in this movie. This guy can act and you lose the person and
totally see the characters he portrays. Reminds me of Daniel Day Lewis.
Anyway, I had never heard of this Kuklinsky person and it was interesting to see his story. The multiplicity of his lifestyle had to be a killer (no pun intended) to live out. I don't know of many actors who could go from one to the other so effortlessly. From cold-hearted killer to nice person to ragging man to loving husband and father. Michael Shannon can do this well. And those subtle expressions of his! They're great. Icy. Kind. Murderous.
I'm not a fan of Winona Ryder but I liked her portrayal of the Mrs. in this movie. She was believable and really had the suffering wife thing down.
While leaving the movie I ran into a gentleman who had watched the actual documentary of Kuklinsky's life and he said the movie was a good portrayal of the facts. That is a good thing to hear because this kind of story like lends itself to Hollywood sensationalism. And while some of that may have happened, it was a good movie about a bad man. Did I feel sorry for Kuklinsky at the end? Yes...well actually it was pity that I felt.
I had to drive over 70miles one way to watch this movie and was it
worth it? Hard to say if one watched "the iceman tapes" from HBO. To me
personally it was disappointing, but I probably expected way too much.
So lower your expectations and you will have a nice evening in the
Shannon is great, superb, I guess nobody could have played him better, but the editing, the storytelling is very abrupt and a bit too edgy. Its not a good fellas, its not even close to it, don't expect even a mob flick. Its an OK movie that had so much more potential. YET it is still worth watching since you don't see movies like that nowadays very often.
The potential of the story would have been an 11, this movie is a 7 with an extra point for Shannons performance. And in relevance I should mention that I would give broken city a 3.5, gangster squad a 4.5, so I guess people who watch this movie with not so high expectations will love it!
PS. No "the iceman" did NOT got his nick because he was so cold, like another reviewer wrote, but because he froze a body for two years. The officials gave him then that name. All this is well known through the "iceman tapes".
Having developed a morbid fascination with serial killers over the past
few years, I was delighted to hear that Richard Kuklinski, one of the
most prolific and emotionless mass murderers in history, was to be
given the cinematic treatment. Not only was his story ripe for a juicy
adaptation, but Michael Shannon, the most consistently mesmerising
actor working in film today, was cast as the titular Iceman. Sadly,
inexperienced director Ariel Vromen, who up to this point had only made
two films I've never heard of, has delivered a by-the-numbers biopic;
one that follows familiar genre conventions and whitewashes Kuklinski's
story completely in favour of a formula that a mainstream audience can
After being impressed by his towering frame and generally intimidating nature, mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), who is in the employ of the Gambino crime family, takes the young Richard Kuklinski under his wing. To get a feel for him, DeMeo tells Kuklinski to kill at tramp in broad daylight, to which Kuklinski coldly obeys . Soon enough, Kuklinski is carrying out mob hits for DeMeo, while telling his clueless wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) that he is in finance. He meets fellow contract killer Robert 'Mr. Freezy' Prongay (Chris Evans), who teaches Kuklinski the benefits of using cyanide to carry out the murders, and then freezing the bodies to rule out a time of death. But with DeMeo coming under pressure from his boss Leonard Marks (Robert Davi) for a drug deal gone wrong, Kuklinki finds himself and his family under threat.
What might have been a fascinating insight into the inner workings of a sociopath, The Iceman is nothing more than your standard straight-to-DVD mobster movie. Completely ignoring Kuklinski's natural instinct for murder (he was a serial killer long before the mob approached him) and his reputation as a merciless and cruel man, beating and killing men for the slightest of reasons, Vromen even adds a family angle that is completely untrue. To give the lead character a bit of recognisable humanity, here he is portrayed as a loving family man, dedicated to his wife and kids as the mob close around him. In fact, in real life Kuklinski was an aggressive wife-beater; a tyrannical king of the household who regularly committed acts of physical and mental abuse on his family.
Artistic license is a right that every film-maker has when conducting a biopic, but when there's a complex and fascinating story to tell, however dubious some of Kuklinski's claims are (he claims to be responsible for the murder of Jimmy Hoffa), then why make such drastic changes if all you're doing is making your subject the same character seen a thousand times before? Shannon deserves better than that, and his unnerving performance is one of the few saving graces here, but his character is reduced to nothing more than a standard mobster, seduced by the lifestyle and cutting himself off from regular life. He was a cruel, savage monster, who disposed of some of his victims by having them eaten alive by rats (or so he claims), or in one incident, he allowed his victim time to pray to God to see if he would answer his prayers, before killing him (this scene is played out in the film with James Franco as the victim).
Plot strands veer off path and are offered no resolution, making them completely redundant. Some are intriguing, such as Stephen Dorff's appearance as Kuklinski's imprisoned paedophile brother, who hints at Kuklinski's dark childhood and abuse. Others are not, such as DeMeo's right-hand man Josh Rosenthal (David Schwimmer) who is given more screen time than necessary, only for the story to fizzle out into absolutely nothing, as does DeMeo himself. Given a longer running time, a more experienced director, and ultimately more commitment to the source material (various books and recordings exist of Kukinski, the most popular being Philip Carlo's book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contratc Killer and the TV movie The Iceman Tapes), this could have been highly engrossing cinema, instead it's a crushing disappointment, saved only by Shannon's imposing performance.
Greetings again from the darkness. Dramatizations are at their best
when actual footage of the subject or event doesn't exist. They can be
an effective way to highlight a particularly interesting story or
person with details we might not otherwise access. Richard Kuklinski's
story is fascinating and frightening. He is known as the mob's most
prolific hit-man/contract killer. Writer/director Arial Vromen has
adapted Anthony Bruno's novel for the screen, and wisely cast Michael
Shannon in the lead. It makes a nice companion piece to the chilling
1992 documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer.
The movie is dominated by the hulking presence of Shannon as Richard Kuklinski. Shannon is no match for the physical size of Kuklinski, but his movements and the camera angles capture the powerful and imposing monster that he was. If you are unfamiliar with Kuklinski's story, he killed somewhere between 100-250 people. His missions were carried forth in cold-blooded, heartless and widely disparate manners. Additionally, he often dismembered his victims and froze bodies and parts to prevent the actual time of death from being established. He was good at his job, but hardly a good guy. But wait! Not so fast ...
Kuklinski was also a husband a father of two daughters who made up what appeared to be a lovely, normal family in suburban New Jersey. This guy had an internal switch he flipped from the street to the dining room table. When he was captured, his wife and daughter claimed they had no clue what he did for a living (he had told them he was in Finance). Sure, they admitted to his having a wild temper and even threatening his wife a few times, but they never once considered that he was a cold-blooded killer by day and neighborly barbecue dad on weekends.
Winona Ryder plays Deborah, Kuklinski's wife. Before you roll your eyes, you should know that Ryder is exceptional in the role. Her tease in Black Swan gave us hope she had returned to form, but this turn displays the talent we always knew was there. The always dependable and creepy Ray Liotta is perfectly cast as Roy Demeo, the mobster for whom Kuklinski worked. The scenes with Shannon and Liotta together are bone-chillingly frightening. Chris Evans (light years from Captain America) plays fellow hit-man Robert Prongay aka Mr Freezy. Kuklinski credits Prongay with valuable insight into poison and disposal of bodies. It's heart-warming to see that even contract killers have support groups. Other support work comes courtesy of David Schwimmer as Josh (Demeo's right hand man), Robert Davi (as Leonard Marks. Demeo's link to the family head), James Franco (as one of the hits), and Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski's incarcerated brother Joey.
Childhood flashbacks give us the table-setting necessary to understand the balance of nature v nurture in the Kuklinski household. Still, no matter how much abuse or misery one has a child, it's difficult to comprehend the stoic evil that possessed Kuklinski. And to be clear, Michael Shannon's performance is his best yet ... and that is saying a great deal. He has become one of the most interesting actors - one who can take the lead as he does here and in Take Shelter, or as a scene-stealing supporter in Revolutionary Road, Mud and the upcoming Man of Steel (as General Zod). He's not a flashy actor, just an extremely talented one.
Vromen captures the gritty feel of the nearly three decades of "family" life in a manner that reminds of Kill the Irishmen ... the Ray Stevenson take on Danny Greene. The atmosphere and inner turmoil are similar, but there is no comparison the Kuklinski evil. Should you doubt this, I would highly recommend the documentary previously mentioned. Watching the actual dead eyes of the real Richard Kuklinski as he talks about his life is beyond horrifying.
The Iceman a biopic based on New Jersey hit-man Richard Kuklinski who
managed to murder at least 100 and possibly up to 250 victims in a span
of almost 40 years.
Michael Shannon giving a strong performance as the hit-man with the calculating and creepy demeanor of a psychopathic killer with no conscience who can still flip the switch back to his life in the suburbs with wife and kids. Yet a shade of subtlety and pathos in his portrayal of Kuklinski that we can actually identify and take some interest in his struggles. With the exception of Winona Ryder who fits seamlessly as naive suburban housewife (and the 2 daughters) very unlikely to feel sympathy for the victims with the exception of one senseless killing. Mostly wiseguys, mostly scumbags. We're not all that mad at Kuklinski for the nasty stuff he's doing.
Ray Liotta a can't miss as a minor mob boss, all the acting first rate and the characters real. But the Iceman story is told without ice and without chasers, a gangster flick without sentiments real or phony thrown in. Viewers hoping to draw insights or conclusions from all the dead bodies might end up disappointed. The 'Iceman' moniker from his practice of freezing bodies to confuse the time of death.
My biggest question for Kuklinski would be, how do you get away with so many murders, so many different methods, places, people over a span of almost 40 years? In the true crime shows the perp makes one little slip in his only perfect crime and ends up in the slam.
The movie is what it is because I don't think there's all that much complex or new in a Kuklinski to learn. Abused growing up, turns to sociopathic super bully behavior as an adult to get what he wants and to survive. No genius but smart enough to know when to turn it down out in the suburbs. Kuklinski was an usher at mass every Sunday. They should have included that in the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie let me down in so many ways. I do understand that most of
the time the book is better then the movie for obvious reasons. Time
restrictions,budget and movie rating system. But to not even come close
and Im talking not even in the same ball park is a huge let down.
Spoiler coming.... Biggest error of the movie was that the director failed to show how heartless "The Iceman" really was. Let me explain.
In the book "The Iceman" would sample new weapons on people mostly the homeless walking under the East River Parkway near the Brooklyn bridge. The police most of the time just wrote it off as the homeless killing each other off. One of his more horrendous acts was to drive a victim to the deep woods of Pennsylvania and seek out a cave. He would then tie up his victim with food all over him...He would then video tape the rats chewing the victim alive. Im not getting into every murder he did but, This does sum up the point that the movie somewhat just skims the surface of how ruthless and heartless the "Iceman" really was.
As for the movie as a whole...I rate this as a somewhat average run of the mill crime drama. I left feeling like I just wasted 2 hours.
A life of crime. Are some people genetically predisposed to crime or is
it all about choices?
In this hard hitting drama, we follow the rise and fall of Richard Kuklinski played utterly convincingly by Michael Shannon. The man who terrorised many, yet he was a faithful and devoted dad and husband where the constant struggle is shown in keeping the balance between a life of crime and family harmony.
One scene I find particularly mesmerising is when he visits his brother in prison and as he is about to leaves his brother shouts that since are both born criminals they shall both end up in jail.
Kudos to the makers for conveying tension and emotion in the correct dose. My only remark would be that it kind of lost its way between being a crime drama and autobiography, however whilst it successfully is a bit of both, I sort of craved it picked a genre and dig a little deeper.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Iceman Ariel Vromen's The Iceman might succeed too well in depicting
its subject, mob hit-man Richard Kuklinski. I saw this film recently at
the Toronto International Film Festival, and was lucky enough to hear
Vromen's Q&A afterwards. This is a solid gangster movie if you're an
aficionado of the genre, but because it doesn't probe very far beneath
the surface of this true story, it fails to reach the status of a great
film. In fact, I think much of the audience left the theatre with the
impression that this was mostly a meditation on mental illness.
Kuklinski, Vromen told the audience, was a sociopath. As such, he had no conscience, and was able to kill at least 100 people without worrying too much about it. He also had no fear hence the nickname 'iceman.' Michael Shannon, who plays Kuklinski, does such a good job of keeping his face clenched like a fist that we can't really empathize with him. The heart of the movie is supposed to be the dichotomy between the icy hit-man who never gets rattled and has no remorse, and the family man who only wants to take care of his family. Vromen told us that this is something we can probably all identify with the hardnosed lawyer or business man who wrecks peoples' careers and fortunes by weekday, and the loving husband and father by weekend, or some variation on this theme. Vromen's somewhat incongruous examples from his own life were playing backgammon one minute on an Israeli air force base, and flying into Lebanon the next to witness all the horrors of war and going to law school by day and being a DJ at raves by night. But Kuklinski seems so brutal, and so filled with rage that we never really believe that he cares about his family all that much. In fact there just isn't that much time devoted to scenes of Kuklinski with his family, and so this central theme never really gets off the ground.
Vromen seemed to want to portray Kuklinski as something more than a sociopath, though, through certain scenes I won't discuss here, and during the Q&A said that in fact, based on the outtakes he'd seen from the HBO documentary, Kuklinskli could be quite charming. Between takes, Vromen said, the real Kuklinski told the story of dropping his daughter off at Catholic school and parking on one of the sisters' spots. She told him not to do this, and he whispered that God had told him to do this. Vromen wondered why HBO hadn't included this in the documentary, which made me wonder why he didn't include it in his own film. Perhaps Kuklinski was really charming, but this just doesn't come through in the film, but would have made it far more interesting. In any case, although I'm not a psychiatrist, it seems to me that it's common for sociopaths to be charming in any case, so this doesn't make the character much more complex. Tony Soprano, if we can compare fictional characters with real ones, was a charming sociopath, but because he somehow charmed us, and his psychiatrist, he was more compelling.
Another underdeveloped theme in the movie is that of chance and religion. Early on Kuklinski tells his future wife (Winona Ryder, who does a great job here) that he doesn't believe in chance. But he only becomes a contract killer when Ray Liotta's character, minor mob-boss Roy Demeo, sees how coolly Kuklinski reacts when attacked by another gangster. Roy closes down Kuklinski's porn editing studio and gives him a choice between unemployment and becoming a killer. Kuklinski thus seems to some extent to have been forced into the job. He was 'just trying to take care of his family.' This is pretty thin, though, and I think we have to see him as fully responsible for his actions. As a side note, when Vromen was asked by an audience member where the moral center of the film was, he hemmed and hawed a bit and told us that the moral of the story was that we should treat each other better. In other words, he either didn't understand the question (despite his having attended law school) or hadn't given much thought to what should have been a central theme of the film. There are some hints (which again, I won't discuss) that Kuklinski thinks that God is dead and so everything is permitted, but again, this is never really developed, and so is not very thought-provoking.
As I said at the beginning, this is, despite everything, a good movie to watch if you've seen Goodfellas too many times to enjoy it anymore, but want something similar. The Iceman, though, really does feel derivative (not only in casting Liotta) of Goodfellas, but without its charm.
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