‘Iceman’: Profile of hit man never heats up

Like many a true-crime tale, the story of Richard Kuklinski sounds like it would make an incredible movie.

A mob-related contract killer, Kuklinski also murdered for the sheer sport of it; when he was arrested in 1986, his wife and children had no idea he’d been doing anything illegal. They thought he was a businessman.

“The Iceman,” a new film based on Kuklinski’s life, is further proof that not all true-crime tales make incredible movies. A dreary wallow in the mire, this one goes wrong almost from the start — save for the central piece of casting.

The picture is draped around the formidable shoulders of Michael Shannon, the Frankensteinian actor from “Take Shelter” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Shannon carries with him the eerie focus of a man who could smite you down just for looking at him sideways, ideal for this role, though limiting for projects that don’t require the unsettling threat of immediate death.

Somehow this outwardly quiet maniac finds a wife (Winona Ryder, suitably fragile) and settles into small-town Jersey life while prospering as a hit man for a second-rate gangster (Ray Liotta).

As in every gangland saga, the etiquette of the mob world is as rigid as an imperial court, so when Kuklinski breaks protocol, he has to improvise to make ends meet.

This leads him to the practice of deep-freezing his victims so they can be held for future disposal, a specialty that earns him the “Iceman” nickname.

Scattered through this grisly scenario, which goes on for decades, are stock lowlifes played by actors who clearly cannot resist the chance to slap on a vintage ’70s mustache: Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, Stephen Dorff.

Everybody but James Franco, right?

Oh, wait, here he is. Ten-minute cameo as a sleazebag given an unusual opportunity by Kuklinski: As he splutters out prayers under the killer’s gun, Kuklinski promises to wait a few minutes in case God wants to intervene.

That episode is drawn directly from Kuklinski’s memories of his career. If director Ariel Vromen had stuck with a more documentary-style cruise through the man’s appalling life, perhaps “The Iceman” would’ve found an appropriately chilling groove.

Instead, we hear about Kuklinski’s abused childhood, and we even begin to root for him when the sleazy gangsters threaten his family (he makes a point of not greasing women and kids).

At some point he becomes like Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade” guy; Yes, maybe he’s a tad maladjusted, but surely we can understand his protectiveness of home and hearth?

All of which undercuts Michael Shannon’s undeniable strength in the part.

It does make one eager for his upcoming turn as Superman’s nemesis in “Man of Steel”: There’ll likely be little time wasted on exploring the psychological underpinnings of General Zod.

“The Iceman” (2 1/2 stars)

A mostly dreary wallow in gangland mire, about a real-life hit man named Richard Kuklinski, whose career was unknown to his wife and family. The movie’s main draw is the central performance by Michael Shannon, who physical presence and eerie focus makes you feel he’d really kill you if you looked at him sideways.

Rated: R for violence, language, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Meridian and Varsity theaters.

More in Life

Using a rod to assist in running wiring through an attic space, Don Thomas, of R&D Handyman Service, works on installing a ceiling fan at a home in SE Everett on Monday, July 24, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
                                Don Thomas of R&D Handyman Service installs a ceiling fan at a home in southeast Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
When fall chores loom, just hand them to the handyman

Here are three local businesses that can help you prepare your home for the rainy season.

And this year’s winners of Everett’s Monte Cristo Awards are…

The awards recognize local homeowners and businesses that take special care of their properties.

‘Happy Death Day’ applies ‘Groundhog Day’ premise on horror genre

Smart writing and Jessica Rothe’s performance make this worth seeing.

Adventurer 1st to finish Race to Alaska on stand-up paddleboard

Karl Kruger will speak about his trip at the Everett Mountaineers Banquet on Nov. 4 in Lynnwood.

Therapy helped ease debilitating pain after injury

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley shares her experiences with complex regional pain syndrome.

How to prune a hydrangea: An exception to the pruning rule

It helps to think of a growing blackberry vine when you’re about to cut back this blooming shrub.

Visiting Germany’s Lutherland, birthplace of Reformation

The sights include the church where the first Protestant service took place in 1521.

Can you top ‘Hamilton’? Author Ron Chernow is about to find out

The notable writer’s latest book, published Oct. 10, is a lengthy biography on Ulysses S. Grant.

Most Read