A slick and thoroughly watchable movie
148You'd be forgiven for thinking that Ariel Vromen's rather banally titled “The Iceman” is some 80's action nonsense that barely saw the light of day, but despite it's unimaginative and slightly off-putting title, it turns out to be a devastatingly grim tale of a family man with an insatiable appetite for blood. It is the true story of Ritchie Kuklinski -AKA- The Iceman; a mob hitman who, over the course of almost four decades, killed more than 100 people in cold blood.
First, a little perspective – from the very beginning this movie does not feel original or groundbreaking at all. You instantly recognise Vromen's stylistic cap-tipping to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Mike Newell and Michael Mann. It doesn't overstep it's requirements as far as cinematography goes either, preferring to keep everything functional and concise, but never dull and boring. Nor is it a wordsmith's tome of delight when it comes to script and screenplay, but it's competent and doesn't wander and certainly has it's memorable moments. Having watched the movie twice now, I can confidently reveal that none of these points are intended as negatives. I found a relaxing comfort in that the director was using the tools he has extremely well, and by that I mean Vromen uses Michael Shannon very well.In fact, if you took Shannon out of the equation, not only do I believe the movie would have been far less convincing as a piece, but I suspect the movie becomes somewhat questionable in it's nature; what would make someone think that audiences would be interested in the glorification of a man with such a breadth of heinous crimes under his belt? It's a question that's far more relevant until you've watched Vromen's tale unfold.
The way he weaves it certainly holds the attention, and though there were aspects of Kuklisky's life that I found deeply interesting, Vromen never lingers too much on these areas, almost as if he's actively managing your connection with the man, never allowing you to be drawn in too far, forever putting years between the audience and Kuklinsky - just as the audience are at their most vulnerable, Vromen skips to the next decade. It's clever and it's subtle.
It's clear that it's Michael Shannon's capabilities as an actor that make us stop wondering why someone has decided to tell this tale. He's as powerful and terrifying as ever I've seen him, and his onscreen presence is so captivating that we allow ourselves to be sucked into his brilliant performance with little more than a furrowed brow and thick and slow voice. Convincing is an understatement. It's not that the script is bad, it's just uninspiring. It's not that the screenplay is poor, it's just not a very original one. To call the photography of the film dull is effectively saying that Michael Mann's Heat was boring; that Scorsese's Goodfellas was droll; that Ridley Scott's American Gangster was tedious. If we look at it in finite detail and with a critical eye, sure, all these aspects of the movie could have been better, but it remains clear that Vromen saw a dual function for the movie – It's a vehicle for Michael Shannon to shine and do what we all know he can do, and in turn, Michael Shannon affords Vromen his opportunity to glide on the coat-tails of great directors before him to tell this tale and I've got zero problems with that given the movie he ended up with.
One area in which The Iceman excels is that it has an absolutely brilliant cast. There's James Franco whose character and situation in the movie I found most surprising and thoroughly satisfying - and that's saying something when you have David Schwimmer wearing a pony tail, a shiny shell suit and a rather awe inspiring thick, bushy moustache in the same movie – incredible. It's worth pointing out though that Schwimmer still hasn't quite found his own voice yet and despite some colourful and varied roles since Friends finally bit the dust, he's still, rather sadly, just Ross. Then there's Chris Evans who, until more than half way through the movie, I categorically failed to recognise. He's fantastic. Of course, it's imperative that I mention Ray Liotta who plays... well, Ray Liotta, but as brilliantly as he ever has. And then there's John Ventimiglia whose character is vicious and terrible - a far cry from Tony Sopranos favourite little chef, Arty. Lest we forget Robert Davi who is typically classy, Stephen Dorf who gets a relatively minor role but commands your attention for all of it, and last but not least – Wynona Ryder who, after her slightly over the top, stage-like performance in Black Swan, shows us once again that she can still steal the limelight (pardon the pun) when it comes to playing opposite Shannon as his wife, Deb. She's a total doll and puts in a fantastic performance here, at times coming close to out-playing her opposite number – not quite though.
It's Shannon's capabilities as an actor that make us stop wondering why someone has decided to tell this tale and effectively glorify a person whose crimes were so abhorrent, instead, he sucks us into his breath-taking performance with little more than a furrowed brow and thick and slow voice. Vromen uses Shannon brilliantly and for that he should be applauded. He has managed to conjure a slick and thoroughly watchable movie. When the din of the classics that preceded it hush for the briefest moment, you'll find that The Iceman certainly has something to say that's well worth listening to. Recommended.
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