Film: "The Iceman"; Cast: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, James Franco, Ray Liotta, Stephen Dorff, Winona Ryder; Director: Ariel Vromen; Rating: *** 1/2
A well-crafted film by Ariel Vromen is a gangster-drama based on the true story of a contract killer who terrorised New Jersey in the US for over a decade from early 1960s to mid-1970s.
It is the story of Richie Kuklinski (Michael Shannon), a shy and hardworking man who would give an arm and a leg to see his family - wife and two daughters - happy.
In the very early stage of his married life, while working as a delivery guy in the porn industry, his path crosses that of a local mobster, Roy Demeo. His unflinching stare appeals to Roy who puts Kuklinski on his pay roll.
With his stoic appearance and a cold heart, Kuklinski is magnetically drawn into crime as if he is a natural-born killer. This becomes his profession and his source of livelihood, which is unknown to his family.
Over a period of time, Kuklinski, also known as Pollack in the world of crime, is a dreaded as well as a sought after man.
Robert Pronge aka Mr. Freezy, another eerie semi-freelance killer, who moves about in an ice-cream van, cajoles Pollack to join him but Pollack, a Roy loyalist, refuses his offer.
Unfortunately, all is not well at Roy's front and Pollack is laid off. So, he unwittingly joins Robert who teaches him the art of freezing bodies and disposing them several days after the hit, so that the cops can't get a time of death and that's how he earns the title of "The Iceman".
Micheal Shannon convincingly renders a sturdily haunting performance as Kuklinski. He stabs, shoots and sprays cyanide without any guilt or remorse. The only time, he falters or shows a sympathetic streak is when on "an assignment to kill" he lets go off a 17-year-old girl who is a witness to his crime and this too he does so credibly that reveals what a loving and concerned father he is.
And with equal measure his manic streak unfurls when he chases a car with his family in tow.
Of the supporting cast, the charismatic and emotional Ray Liotta as Roy Demeo proves to be a fitting archetypal character who balances Shannon's aura.
Chris Evans as the unconventional hit-man Mr. Freezy with his French beard and unkempt weird wig, slicing corpses is funny yet repulsive. Winona Ryder as Kuklinski's oblivious wife Deborah is pleasantly pretentious and believable as the la-di-da cared by a loving husband.
Steffen Dorff is powerfully moving in a cameo role as Kuklinski's equally blood- thirsty younger brother.
Though the film is well-crafted and captures its period setting to precision, with the sepia tone, clothing, hair-cuts and heeled shoes, the biopic lacks the zing of a gangster-thriller film. The 100-odd killings are dismissed off through a set of generic mafia dialogues and stereotypical violent shootouts, which one has witnessed many times earlier.
The cinematography, editing and the graph of the script also does not rise to a momentum to make a mark, but instead snuggly fits into a Scorsese-clone-ish mould.
But what stands out and touches a chord is when Mr. Kuklinski says: "I never felt sorry for anything that I've done except for hurting my family. I do want my family to forgive me."
This makes you realise that the ice-man indeed had a heart.
This indeed tugs at your heart-strings somewhere and coupled with the brilliant performances makes the film worth watching.