Michael Shannon sure is creepy. If you know who he is, of course, you knew that. (See Take Shelter, Revolutionary Road, Bug, to name a few.) I mean, as a person, he’s probably very normal and a sweetheart, but as an actor, he plays ominous weirdos. And he does so quite well, bringing empathy to often unlikable characters.
In this case, the character he’s bringing to life is the infamous “Iceman” Richard Kuklinski, a man who killed over a hundred people for fun and profit over many decades.
The story is that Kuklinski is an amateur murderer. The movie does not show his early work torturing animals but does give us a taste of how a barroom argument that seems to have been resolved peacefully results in him slitting a throat later on.
Not what any conventional narrative would call a “good guy”.
His paying job in the ‘60s as a porn bootlegger (I guess, though I thought the porn was made by the mafia in the first place, but maybe that was a ’70s thing) leads to him hooking up with a small-time crime boss Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) and lackey Josh Rosenthal (David Schwimmer, who shows some nice range), for whom he does many profitable murders.
Rosenthal is a screw-up, though, and ends up getting Demeo in trouble, at which time he has to furlough Kuklinski and lay low.
Now, a lot of people are critiquing this movie for not getting deeper into Kuklinski’s psyche. To which I say “meh”. I’m not sure what calculus says “Hey, this guy kills people for fun and profit, he must be really deep.”
But at this point, Kuklinski gets a little nutty (nuttier than previously presented in the film) and I was unclear on whether it was just financial troubles or whether he just really loved his job. So, yeah, maybe a little more depth at this point would’ve been nice, but (in fairness) it would’ve required expository material from Shannon, and the Iceman wasn’t much of a talker, I guess. (Well, late in life, maybe.)
So he hooks up with Captain America (Chris Evans, basically unrecognizable from his CA incarnation), whom he met previously on a job to kill the Hobgoblin (James Franco, that is, who’s always James Franco-looking).
Winona Ryder plays Mrs. Iceman, who never seems to have a clue what her husband does. He’s in money, or something. And, let’s not let that pass. Winona Ryder landed an acting gig! I mean, I guess she’s been in stuff, like she was a voice in Frankenweenie and Spock’s (presumably now dead) mom in the Star Trek reboot, but I can’t remember her as a leading lady since the execrable Adam Sandler remake of Mr. Deeds. And before that, what, Alien: Resurrection? This has gotta be an uptick in the ol’ career arc.
So, there’s that. (She’s fine. She looks…odd.)
Robert Davi plays a heavy, natch.
So, overall an engaging movie, if not exactly compelling the way Bug and Take Shelter were. They threaded the needle between making their protagonist watchable without making him exactly sympathetic.
The Boy and I liked it.