wogma rating: Watch, but no rush (?)
Michael Shannon is clearly a complex actor. Staid, stoic and with not exactly the widest range of expressions to offer, he was last seen as the superhero’s archenemy in a recent summer blockbuster. Even there, his ice-cool, steely demeanour was what added an air of menace about him, never mind that the character itself had a moral ambiguity about it, which made it hard to hate or fear him outright.
In fact, Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman, a film that premiered internationally last year, probably found its release at this opportune time because of the worldwide visibility that Michael Shannon received courtesy Man of Steel.
A dark, brooding character study of a contract killer who manages to keep that part of his identity a secret even from his immediate family, the film’s measured pace, sombre atmosphere and Michael Shannon’s turn as the real life Richard Kuklinski, on whom this film is based, are what hold the film together, despite its rather erratic writing and slight unwieldiness in directorial craft.
Of course, what really intrigues you is Richard Kuklinski himself. It is hard to imagine a man who so easily takes up contract killing as a profession, who doesn’t seem to have a moral compass that guides him with regard to the rights and wrongs of his actions. He is absolutely unflappable in the face of a crisis (as long it doesn’t involve his family), and doesn’t hesitate before taking a human life even if it isn’t part of a contract.
And yet, Richard Kuklinski was a living, breathing person; a man who took hundreds of lives and who seemed to show no remorse whatsoever. In that sense, The Iceman offers you no real graph. Despite the fact that the film gets its noir feel nearly right, it offers no real plot, no sense of anticipation in terms of a twist or two.
A straight, bleak, stark narrative will always feel like a documentation of facts, as opposed to a real story with an emotional core that one can hang on to. The only times one can identify with Richard Kuklinski as a real human being is when he displays his love for his family, and even that is done with a sense of cold detachment. However, director Arial Vromen seems most out of sorts when he is trying to make this juxtaposition between the cold-blooded killer and the family man. This, precisely this, is where Michael Shannon’s performance saves the film.
The Iceman was an epithet given to Kuklinski himself, but it can very well apply to Shannon too. His physical appearance changes through the film, but the iciness remains the same. The expressions are minimal, but the emotions he manages to convey even without changing his expression is testament to what a unique actor he is - so much so that the man is literally a part of the mood that the film creates. One almost gets the feeling that just taking him out of the frame would brighten things up a bit.
Ray Liotta plays Roy DeMeo, the mob boss who recruits Kuklinski and kickstarts his killing career. Liotta is in terrific form once again, maliciously towering over every other character in the film, even Kuklinski, when they share the frame. Chris Evans, in a completely different avatar as a grungy yet affable killer himself, is excellent in his tiny role. The weak link in the film in terms of choice of actor as well as performance is Winona Ryder, who plays Kuklinski’s wife. Apart from the fact that she doesn’t age one bit through the film, her performance comes across as false one time too many.
Despite the interesting one-line premise The Iceman offers, as a film it doesn’t particularly ‘entertain’ you, if that’s what you’re looking for. What it does rather well though, is manage to engage you by creating a dark little world, provided you are willing to submit yourself to it. The Iceman isn’t for everyone; it is mostly for those who don’t mind feeling a little cold deep, deep within.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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