Director: Ariel Vromen
Writers: Morgan Land (screenplay), Ariel Vromen (screenplay)
Stars: Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, James Franco
Motion Picture Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes
This is based on the true story of a contract killer living and murdering in New Jersey in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The hitman, Richard Kuklinski, achieved notoriety because of the number of murders that he was associated with (approx. 100), the iceman nickname that the press gave him and because of the very ordinary and healthy family life that he maintained. Kuklinski, of Polish origin, appeared to be a regular Joe, but was far from it. His psychopathic tendencies were funnelled into contract killing for local mobsters and that allowed him to support and to nurture a family. This film focuses on the central contradiction of his life.
Michael Shannon plays Kuklinski and his towering frame dominates the film. He is a large man and a brooding and menacing presence. Here he is reminiscent of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but with added threat. Shannon is well respected by other actors, but is far from a household name. Acting like this, he probably should be; this is a big performance from a very talented actor. His large head, cold eyes, slow and purposeful walk fit the character, but Shannon is more than his physical attributes and imbues Kuklinski with magnetism, depth and a strange poignancy.
There is not a great deal of plot and when the story gets more complicated it less easy to follow and oddly less interesting. The second half mainly involves a lot of tough guys mumbling about double crossing each other. The most intriguing scenes later on provide an insight to the Kuklinski childhood dominated by an abusive father. The young Richard is prone to torturing animals in a clearly desensitized reaction to the physical abuse routinely met out by dad. A conclusion is that the contract killing work of the adult Richard is a way to stay level and to keep demons at bay. He thus manages to live a normal life with wife and kids.
This is a good and mostly gripping film. The 1970’s production and design are on the mark and there are a couple of very good supporting turns by the likes of Ray Liotta. Shannon is excellent throughout and pulls the audience in as his two wholly separate and compartmentalized lives unravel and collide. There are some smart observations about psychosis too in between the assortment of murders. It is not perfect by any means, but is very nicely done. A small, tight and rewarding movie.