‘The Iceman’ (2013) ultimately leaves us cold.

12 Jun

The Iceman posterAnyone hoping for a gritty, Batman Begins-style reboot of the Marvel superhero unfortunately has to wait. The Iceman of The Iceman isn’t one of the original X-Men, but is in fact a real-life serial killer responsible for at least one hundred murders across New York City during the seventies. (Un)fortunately, he shoots and knifes people, rather than freezing into an icicle.

Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, a pornography director turned hired gun in 1970’s New York. Nonchalant and aloof, he nonetheless has a doting wife (Deborah, Winona Ryder) and kids –  to double-quote Foreigner, he is hot-blooded, yet cold as ice. Dabbling as he does in various illegal activities, he eventually becomes a hitman for Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta). Things quickly spiral out of control as the bodies pile up, but unfortunate circumstances result in him having to do a bit of work ‘on the side’ with the long-haired Mr. Freeze (Chris Evans) in order to support his family. Can he reconcile his two nefarious day-jobs with his life as the head of a nuclear family?

This may sound like the plot of virtually every underground crime drama of the last fifty years, and that’s because, well, it is. The Iceman is noteworthy for taking several hundred leafs from The Godfather, The Untouchables, Goodfellas and the like, while unfortunately not reaching anywhere near the heights of these classics. The colours are dark and murky, there are more guns than “hellos” and bodies drop like flies, but of course our protagonist is doing it all for the right reasons – you know the drill. We’re not so much flogging a dead horse here as we are demanding where it’s hiding the cocaine and the blood-money it owes us.

This happens roughly 99999 times, though thankfully Shannon loses the 'tache.

This happens roughly 99999 times, though thankfully Shannon loses the ‘tache.

What lifts this movie above the threshold of mediocrity is unquestionably Michael Shannon, the perennially low-key actor who continues his status as perhaps the most underrated man in the business. His wonderfully deadpan and dour demeanour fits the role of a blank, ruthless killer perfectly; his character claims to only care about his family, and Shannon is so convincing. He’s so great that every other face just pales in comparison. Ray Liotta is tough to buy as a crime overlord, the best part about Chris Evans is his wig, Winona Ryder is the most vanilla-flavoured token female you’ll ever see, and don’t even start me on David Schwimmer and his inconceivable shoebrush moustache.

The actual story itself is hackneyed and very derogatory – it’s been done to death so twists can be seen coming a mile away. It never descends into plodding territory, and the drama is certainly piques interest, but it’s treading on so much old ground it may as well be on a pilgrimage to Mecca. In doing so it’s clearly worshipping the crime classics, but unfortunately for director Ariel Vromen, all of the aforementioned films have already nailed the underground crime story, and in much more impressive ways than this.

All in all, The Iceman is a decent if unmemorable crime thriller than weaves an interesting yarn out of a grisly true story, but in doing so breaks absolutely no new ground. Shannon’s performance raises the bar and makes it worth a watch, though.

Simon says: officially joining the Michael Shannon fanclub.

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