What more could we possibly learn about hitmen? It’s a profession egregiously over-represented on the big screen, considering its microscopic per capita employment level. And it’s a job that most movies, from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to Pulp Fiction to In Bruges, mine for excitement, with the hitman himself as the embodiment of cool. Rarely does the portrayal of paid killers onscreen offer much resembling critical perspective.
That’s what makes Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman so exciting. It actually does offer up perspective, a moral point of view. The Israeli-born director's third feature stars Michael Shannon as the real-life Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer who murdered over 100 people from 1964-1986. At first glance, it may feel like Breaking Bad — the story of an ordinary schlub with a particular set of skills who enters into a criminal enterprise to provide for his family. But unlike Breaking Bad, which has it both ways by encouraging our cathartic identification with Walter White while half-heartedly condemning his crimes (hence why people like Walter more than suffering wife Skyler), The Iceman neither glamorizes nor identifies with its subject. One horrifying moment when Kuklinski’s partner in crime (Chris Evans) suggests that they kill each other’s families, as the cops are closing in, shows how down and dirty, uncool and unfunny, how thoroughly banal both these guys, Kuklinski included, really are. The Iceman is a slightly detached, clinical case-study of pathology, with Michael Shannon’s Kuklinski as its stone-faced test subject.
If it wasn’t already clear that Shannon is one of the finest actors on the planet, based on his towering perforamnces in Revolutionary Road, Shotgun Stories, and Take Shelter, The Iceman will unfog your glasses. Vromen’s film is Shannon’s De Niro-in-Raging Bull moment. He and his director have found a way to translate a true-crime story into a deconstruction of masculinity. The reptilian, tough-guy reserve Kuklinski projects to be taken seriously as a manly man to his wife (Winona Ryder), daughters, and friends — the emotional constipation that’s transformed his face into a craggy mask — aligns perfectly with the job requirements of being a killer: stereotypical masculine gender identity revealed to be akin to sociopathy and conducive to criminality. The most terrifying scene from any movie this year occurs when Kuklinski, in a fit of road rage, chases at high speed after a rude motorist who insulted his wife and daughters….while his wife and daughters are screaming terrified in the car. He’s defending their honor at the same time he’s recklessly endangering them.
Unfortunately, not much else surrounding Shannon in The Iceman is on par with Raging Bull. Instead of Joe Pesci, we have David Schwimmer as a mustachioed thug. Dispiritingly, Ray Liotta, as Kuklinski’s mobster employer, has decided these days to play only one kind of clench-jawed heavy from film-to-film. And Vromen has an affinity for the brown, tan, and orange hues in fashion and interior design of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but doesn’t find any way less clichéd to convey the passage of time than to continually alter Shannon’s facial hair or show the progression of the then still-under-construction World Trade Center towers.
Robert Davi as a pock-marked Don is arrestingly ruthless, however. James Franco leaves an impact as a pornographer Kuklinski forces to pray for deliverance from God, right before killing him. And Winona Ryder, soft, sincere, and incredibly vulnerable has given us her best performance in years. Her beautiful fragility opposite Shannon’s unwavering stolidness is what reveals Vromen’s ambition here to be a damning critique of gender roles and how, to some degree, we all perform them.
What do you think? Tell Christian Blauvelt directly on Twitter @Ctblauvelt and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes !
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Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco were initially in place to take on leading roles in Ariel Vromen's new real-life gangster movie The Iceman, but pregnancy and family tragedy got in the way. The roles eventually went to Winona Ryder, as notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski's partner Deborah, and Chris Evans, as gangster Mr. Freezy.
Vromen tells WENN, "Maggie got pregnant, but Winona is so perfect for the role because she's so fragile compared to him, so the camaraderie was really working between them. She's a great actress and was hiding for a while, so I think this movie can really bring her back into the spotlight.
"And James Franco was originally supposed to play Mr. Freezy but his father passed away while they were filming Oz: The Great & Powerful, and they pushed the production, so he couldn't make it. Chris saved us and came down and supported the film."
But Franco still insisted on being part of the project: "James felt guilty so he came to do a scene - as an assigned hit."
The director admits he was blindsided by the acting talents of former Friends star David Schwimmer, who he was initially against casting as Josh Rosenthal.
He reveals, "I was averse to casting Schwimmer; I didn't see it at all. I liked him, he was a good theatre actor and I saw him in a play in Chicago and I'm a huge fan of Friends, but, in a Mafia movie, David Schwimmer really didn't work out for me.
"David went back to New York and called a friend of his who is a make-up artist and they created the look for the role with the ponytail and moustache. Then David sent me an audition tape with that look and I thought, 'OK, I'll take the chance'."
The comedy drama landed the coveted film of the year prize at the Italian festival, as well as the event's audience award and the best acting ensemble trophy, while its star Bradley Cooper was named best actor for his portrayal of a mentally ill man.
Fantasy movie Beasts of the Southern Wild was also a big winner - it scooped the award for surprise film of the year, and nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis was named best actress.
Juan Antonio Bayona won best director for his work on disaster movie The Impossible, and Ariel Vromen picked up the breakout director honour for The Iceman.
The festival, held in Capri, ran from 26 December (12) and the winners were announced on Wednesday (02Jan13).
At this point, Chris Evans is pretty much only capable of being looked at as a superhero. First, he was Johnny Storm, a.k.a The Human Torch in Fantastic Four and its sequel. Then, he shone as the star of Captain America: The First Avenger, a role he'll be reprising in next years The Avengers. And now, he's heading up the new superhero move called The Iceman, wherein he'll battle enemies with his winter breath and sub-zero rays and ability to...oh, wait, what? The Iceman isn't a superhero movie? It's a drama about a contract killer? Well, I just assumed. You know, because of Evans...Okay, I guess this could still be pretty cool.
Evans is taking over the role formerly occupied by James Franco: Robert "Mr. Softee" Pronge, mentor to the titular "Iceman" figure, the real life murderer Richard Kuliski. Kuliski is being portrayed by Boardwalk Empire's terrific Michael Shannon.
The project, directed by Ariel Vromen, is based on the book The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer, by Anthony Bruno.
So no, it's not a superhero movie. No, it's not a Top Gun sequel. It's not even an adaptation Eugene O'Neill's esteemed Broadway play. But it still looks to be a pretty good movie.
The story? A notorious contract mob killer who killed over 100 people, freezing each one of them to disguise time-of-death, had no remorse about any of it and also really, really loves his family. This is a true story. The cast? Michael Shannon as the killer, Richard Kuklinksi; Benicio Del Toro plays the mobster who hires him, Roy Demeo; and James Franco will play the man behind the man, Kuklinksi's mentor, Mr. Softee. Are you creeped out yet?
The film is based off of the tell-all novel The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer by Anthony Bruno and the documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer and Ariel Vromen (Rx) will direct. It looks like we've got the set up for a killer (pardon my awful pun) film and this will give Shannon the chance to exhibit his talents for a wider audience. Of course, with names like Del Toro and Franco on either side, he's in the best of company. Is it sick that we're really looking forward to this one?
Source: Hollywood Reporter