Director: Ariel Vromen
Studio: Bleiberg Entertainment / Millennium Films,
Stars: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans
It's almost impossible to tear your eyes away from Michael Shannon playing Richard Kuklinski, nicknamed "The Polack," the '50s contract killer who shot, strangled, knifed and slit the throats of somewhere between 100 and 250 people. Shannon is just about the only reason to see this violent, slickly made biopic, cowritten (with Morgan Land) and directed by Ariel Vromen, in which the brilliant actor plays a sociopath who only stops killing long enough to be a loving family guy to his two daughters and his sweet, worrying wife (Winona Ryder, still doing baby talk).
As with most of the characters, Ryder plays a woman who asks few questions about how the cold-blooded gangster earns his wads of cash. She doesn't realize that he sold bootlegged porn, thinks he dubbed Disney cartoons before trading in foreign currency. Why should she question him? She sees him taking his Catholic school–attending daughters out for a bout of roller-skating; she doesn't see him rubbing out his victims.
It won't be any surprise to fans of Take Shelter or Boardwalk Empire that Shannon is a master at playing shark-eyed, troubled souls who are really, really good at keeping secrets. That's what he does for a Gambino family crime boss (Ray Liotta) and his partner (David Schwimmer) or, later, a skeeze and fellow killer (a terrific Chris Evans) who drives a Mister Softee truck and suggests a method of storing dead bodies.
With cameos by James Franco and Stephen Dorff, among others, we keep hoping the movie will go epic, wilder, more original and complex. Too often, it feels like leftover Sidney Lumet or Martin Scorsese. But at least The Iceman puts Shannon, who may finally become a household name because of the upcoming Man of Steel, stage center where he belongs.