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Iceman, The


Stars: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, James Franco, John Ventimiglia, Robert Davi, Danny Abeckaser, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherrill

Director: Ariel Vromen

When Richard Kulinski goes on his first date with Deborah Pellicotti he seems shy and taciturn, leaving her to do all the talking.

“Ask a girl for a cup of coffee and you should have something to say” she tells him, not unkindly. His response hints he might be a regular moviegoer, telling her “You’re a prettier version of Natalie Wood”. The relationship blossoms, they marry, have children and end up happily married and living very comfortably off in a santised-by-Spielberg style New Jersey neighbourhood.

But their lives finally turn out to be far from the All-American dream. Kulinski keeps his very well paid job hidden from his family. Which is very sensible since he is a cold-blooded killer-for-hire whose income comes from killing people for the Mob, racking up an impressive total of around one hundred kills before being arrested by the Feds and imprisoned in 1986.

The film, scripted by director Ariel Vromen and Morgan Land, is “based on a true story” (which, unfairly perhaps, I sometimes assume to be rewritten for larger box-office appeal while initially deriving from a true story) whose genesis came about when Vromen saw the television documentary “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman” and came to life as a screenplay based on the HBO film and a true-crime novel by Anthony Bruno.

And the result?

A muscular, violent and compelling biopic deservedly dominated by a powerful performance by Michael Shannon in the title role, who plays his emotionless and merciless killer-for-hire character as a mercenary who has a job to do and does it well, never allowing any feelings about his victims to become evident – except when he is with his family - and seamlessly segues into the persona of a devoted husband and father. In fairness to his chilling characterization, Shannon does state “I don’t kill women or children”.

Ryder is fine and the Mob are effectively represented by Ray Liotta (whose lack of charm makes him ideally suited for his crime-lord role). Also implicated are hoods David Schwimmer (sporting a massive moustache) and Chris Evans. James Franco turns up briefly and unrecognizably as one of Kulinski’s century-plus victims.

Vromen makes good use of Bobby Bukowski’s muted cinematography, effectively to rob the narrative of any impression of trying to apply gloss to the powerful but frequently painful story that commendably avoids overt moralizing and instead treats audiences as adults.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Colour.
105 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 07 Jun 2013