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IN SHORT: The first of this year's crop to earn a place on our year end Best of the Year List. [Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content. 106 minutes]
We'll say it right here: You will not see a better performance, this year, by any actor than that given by Michael Shannon as a man named Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman. It will get him an Academy Award. It will get him the SAG Actor's award. The film just needs to be seen -- always the catch with indies. Moreso when the character portrayed is as despicable a person as this planet could ever see.
Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) is a character that, as a child, was beaten so severely that his face shows emotion of any kind. Thus "The Iceman" nickname that will become an important part of the character as the film moves on. Understand, readers, that we had no idea what we were about to see when we sat for our screening of The Iceman. If you've seen a trailer or TV commercial you know more than we did.
So . . . those of you who wish to know the basics of the story may read on. Everyone else should know that despicable acts and despicable characters do not equal a despicable movie. Especially when the character at the center of the former has no problem keeping all of the latter compartmentalized in his complicated life. So . . .
Young Richard Kuklinski "works in animated films." At least that's what he tells the lovely Deborah Pellicotti (Wynona Ryder) as he set his sights on and, eventually, marr1ies her. Two daughters follow, as will a change of profession. Kuklinski finds work on Wall Street in some kind of job that is so complicated Deborah doesn't really understand what it is. Every morning Richard leaves their nice house in the Jersey suburbs and every evening he comes home. Life was good. That was Deborah's reality but it wasn't the truth.
The truth is that young, single Richard Kuklinski worked in the porn biz, dubbing copies of films and other production chores. Porn was controlled by the Mafia and the Mafia -- in this case boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) and underlings Josh Rosenthal (David Schwimmer) and Mickey Scicoli (John Ventimiglia) -- "never makes mistakes". So when Kuklinski misses a production deadline the aforementioned threesome come looking for trouble.
Thing is, Kuklinski never missed a deadline. Kuklinski stands up to Demeo and, long story short, Demeo comes away impressed.
Killing a homeless person helps, at least as far as impressing the boss goes. Kukinski finds himself gainfully employed as Demeo's "personal" hit man. The 60s become The 70s and the Mafia moves into cocaine trafficking. Cocaine makes people paranoid. Roy Demeo makes the mistake of assigning two hit men the same gig. So Richard Kuklinski meets "Mister Freezy" (Chris Evans), who works out of the back of an ice cream truck. The pair develop an independent kill for hire business, te nitty gritty of which is so clever that we won't spill it here.
Along the line Josh Rosenthal, who was probably the underling who didn't make the porn production deadline "mistake" referenced two paragraphs ago, gets greedy while doing a coke sale. The resulting bloodshed will piss off a different branch of the mafia family . . . and we'll not spill that part of t he story either. The 1970s wrap. The film moves into its Third Act. Yours Cranky won't tell you anything of what twists into the eventual downfall of Kuklinski, which of course is coming because the bad guy never triumphs.
What we will report is how stunned we felt as the film moves towards its end; which is why what follows makes perfect sense . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Iceman, he would have paid . . .
We walked out of our screening of The Iceman wanting to see it again; the very definition of the topmost rating given by this site. Yes, the film is brutal and violent and dances through the dark side of humanity that should make most of want to take a shower to get the moral filth cleaned off. Shannon and Ryder and Liotta 's performances all wrapped up inside of director/co-screenwriter Ariel Vromen's creative process yields something extraordinary . . . It's going to cost us $15 buck to see it again when it opens on Friday. [written 4/30 before a 5/3 opening.]
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