Apparently even the most cold-hearted and vicious of killers needs a soft corner in his life, even if it is a make-believe world held high and separate from the crud that dominates his violent livelihood. In the case of mob hitman Richard Kuklinski in “The Iceman,” this fairy-tale world is his family, a wife and two daughters, who he allows to go about their suburban lives in blissful ignorance.
“Iceman” is a film in need of a face. The voice tells us very little. And Director Ariel Vromen could not have found a better face than Michael Shannon’s to portray his superb study of real-life killer Kuklinski’s split psyche. It is a monster’s face, and if you study it as the movie progresses it seems to look more and more like “Frankenstein’s Monster.”
Shannon, a little-known actor who received a 2008 Oscar nomination for a supporting role in “Revolutionary Road,” has a big, square-jawed face with eyes and mouth that can express utter indifference to human life and a flicker later reflect the doting love of a husband and father. And a face too that reveals the mounting stress as his two worlds come closer and closer together. Kuklinski’s words are nothing. The Face tells all. And what it tells shakes our confidence. What is real in our own lives and what is fiction?
In the opening scenes, The Face undergoes a believability test. Kuklinski is seen bundling porn films for the mob’s distribution network headed by small-time New Jersey mobster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) and then on a sophomoric first-date with the child-like Deborah, his wife-to-be played equally well by Winona Ryder.
It is during this date that we truly encounter The Face for the first time as taciturn Kuklinski lies about his occupation. The Face is stoic as usual but the eyes reflect a kindness we do not see a few frames later when we see him slit a man’s throat over a trifling matter. When The Face tells Deborah his favorite film is “Cinderella,” we too are torn between our cynicism and wanting to believe it possible.
“The Iceman” is unrelenting in its violence. It is hoped the Oscars will not turn away from the film because of it. The film is so much more than violence.