Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled The Iceman

By the time Richard Kuklinski was captured in 1986, he was said to have murdered more than 100 people. Reportedly a killer even before he turned pro for the mob, he was also so cagey his wife and daughters apparently had no inkling of what he did for a living. No film could make sense of a personality like that, and The Iceman, a true-crime thriller from Israeli-born director Ariel Vromen, doesn’t exactly try. Alternating scenes of the psycho-as-family-man with an increasingly grisly and desperate series of hits, it makes for a surprisingly monotonous sit for a movie that also features a killer named Mr. Freezy.

The film is primarily a showcase for Michael Shannon, who exudes his by-now-signature imperturbable menace while donning a succession of period-appropriate facial hair. In flashback, the film (adapted from a book by Anthony Bruno and a 1992 HBO documentary featuring interviews with Kuklinski ) begins with the eponymous sociopath meeting his wife (Winona Ryder), for whom he poses as a cartoon-dubber. Never too busy to attend his daughters’ roller-rink outings or write a poem for one of their sweet 16 parties, he leads a parallel life as the wiseguy underworld’s most cold-blooded killer. Early on, he proves his worth to kingpin Ray Liotta by shooting a homeless man in broad daylight. James Franco lasts only one scene, while Chris Evans is barely recognizable as Shannon’s ice cream-truck-driving partner, who helps put their victims in deep freeze.

Lurid material doesn’t guarantee a vital film, and it may be that the story told here is ill-suited to a traditional biopic structure. Apart from a few close calls and rare hints of moral conflict, as when Shannon frees a 17-year-old witness, tension is in short supply. The blandly episodic narrative could use less glib sensationalism—Evans and Shannon small-talk while carving flesh—and more of the family’s perspective. (Ryder, speaking in a heavy Jersey accent, seems trapped in a particularly thankless part.) With little to say about the character other than “what a sociopath… but he loved his family,” The Iceman coasts on morbid curiosity. Lacking a coherent perspective or point of entry, it leaves the viewer frozen out.