Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) and his wife, Deborah (Winona Ryder) appear to have a model American life, living with their children in an idyllic suburban house. Unbeknownst to Deborah and the kids, when Kuklinski goes off to work in the morning - or, on occasion, in the middle of dinner or the middle of the night - he is carrying out executions at the behest of a local crime family. "The Iceman" shows the development of Kuklinski's career from the 1950s through the 1980s, showing how he employed a wide variety of methods (guns, knives, poisonings etc.) that made it difficult to trace all the fatalities to a single killer.
Based on the true story of an infamous mafia hit man for hire the Iceman is a crime drama in which Michael Shannon stars as the assassin leading a double life; the doting father and dedicated family man in public and, unbeknownst to his nearest and dearest, a cut throat assassin whose work is said to be so cold and unemotional that the media dub him “the Iceman”.
The film begins as many such biopics do, at the end. Shannon – his character Richard Kuklinski a stereotypical stoic and macho New Yorker – already in prison being interviewed and telling the tale from his own perspective. With such a set up one would expect therefore, because of the nature of a first person retelling, to find the characters involved, or at least those at the very heart of the film, to be overflowing with nuance, depth and some kind of tangible emotional link to the lead. Instead however we are offered a number of fairly one dimensional characters, even Kuklinski himself appears paper thin beyond his determination to keep his family in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. Later when Kuklinski’s young daughters begin to be targeted by the mafia bosses he has betrayed there are no tugs at the heart strings or cries for revenge from the audience, instead there is more mildly confused silence.
I mention the confusion because, even now as I write this, I’m not entirely sure what happened to Kuklinski – all aspects of tone and traditional narrative point to the assumption that he was set up by one of his few friends or co-workers, yet the various characters that moved alongside Shannon’s in the story were themselves so stereotypical and unimaginative that they seemed to blur together before my very eyes. Couple this with the film’s use of time, moving forward suddenly without any scripting cues to alert the audience to the changes and developments that have taken place in the interim; the Iceman is just a bit of a mess.