Published May 16, 2013The question, "do you have any regrets?" is put to real life contract killer Richard Kuklinski in the opening moments of selective biopic The Iceman. Were that same question turned on director/screenwriter Ariel Vromen (Danika), I wonder how he'd respond?
Would he lament his pedestrian translation of Anthony Bruno's book? Would he wring his hands over the marginalized character motivations of Kuklinski's wife, Deborah (Winona Ryder), or the lackadaisical inspection of historical signifiers of a man devoid of empathy? Or would he stand by his convictions, proud to have acted in the specific interest of what he holds dear?
Vromen's particular interest is in clearly, efficiently and dispassionately presenting the sequential events of Kuklinski's time as a hit man. Emotionally despondent even with a gun barrel kissing his cheek and capable of nonchalantly dispatching a beggar for a job interview, Kuklinski (an impeccably cast Michael Shannon) is drafted from a job dubbing audio for genital stew cinema into the services of small time mob boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta, buried in the cosy womb of typecasting).
As scenes of Kuklinsky the family man are shown in contrast to his mounting body count, The Iceman plays a bit like a less sensationalized Dexter. Trouble is, beyond a brief conversation with Kuklinsky's imprisoned brother (Stephen Dorff), indicating an abusive father and family predilection for callousness, Vromen doesn't bother exploring the killer's reasoning process.
The imposing Polish murderer doesn't take kindly to violence against women or children, but that's the extent of anything resembling a moral code to temper his poor impulse control. Half-baked implications of religious distrust come across as tangential, amounting to little more than an underhanded admonishment to atheists, rather than a key component to understanding Kuklinsky's psychological or ideological makeup.
Vromen's greatest achievement is in the freedom he gives his cast to play dress-up and dig into some persona building. Chris Evans (The Avengers) in particular has a great time disguising his newly iconic mug and physique beneath bushy mutton chops, an unruly mane, massive aviators and baggy post-hippie attire.
His brief but dedicated performance is one of the best things to happen to the film, and not just because his prominent casting bumped James Franco to little more than a cameo, where his daft overacting does less damage.
Will you have any regrets after seeing The Iceman? As long as you don't expect much more than a well-acted diversion out of it, probably not. (eOne)