The Iceman

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You talking to me? You talking to me…but, I’m the only one here…

When I was 12-years-old, I sent a fan letter to George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs. He was my second favorite player behind Magic Johnson. He sent me back a letter thanking me for my letter, and it was signed “George Iceman Gervin.” His nickname was “Iceman” and I still have that letter. This movie is not about George Gervin.

Now, when we saw the movie about Jackie Robinson a few weeks ago, it may have made you laugh to see the words “based on a true story” in the beginning. This gives filmmakers some creative license.

In most movies, we all recognize this as a cheap ploy to sell more movie tickets and that it means very little. Yet when you’re dealing with a contract killer that murdered over 100 people working for different fractions of the mob out of Jersey, you take notice.

Richard Kuklinski is the Iceman, and he’ll make you forget about the only other Iceman I can think of — Val Kilmer (Top Gun). He’s played by one of my favorite actors – Michael Shannon. He’s played nut jobs in a number of films (and was a pleasant surprise as the most “normal” adult in Mud).

It’s interesting that Kuklinski could hide this life from his wife and two daughters (who were enrolled in a Catholic school). Winona Ryder plays his wife well enough, but really – when Shannon is on the screen, you don’t pay attention to anybody else. He has that commanding a presence.

The problem lies in the fact that this intriguing story isn’t so compelling. It runs down the usual clichés you see in biopics, and all the clichés you see in gangster movies. Even Ray Liotta is cast as his boss. It lacks substance, and when you’re dealing with an unlikable character, that’s a tough sell.

James Franco has a small role (although just stating that should probably be labeled “spoiler alert”), and David Schwimmer adds some humor with a goofy mustache.

Chris Evans (Captain America) drops his shield, and instead hands out ice cream. Well, when he’s not working as a rival contract killer.

There are a few scenes where Shannon really displaces his menace. One of those is when he gets in a fender bender and the guy makes the mistake of mouthing off to him. Another is when Liotta points a gun in his face and he doesn’t even flinch. He merely asks “What do you want?” He says that in a voice that almost suggests you’re wasting his time and that you should just get on with stating what you want to ask him. When that involves his first “hit,” we watch him do it in a way that seemed realistic. He asks the guy for a cigarette, looks around, contemplates what he’s about to do while making awkward small talk, and seizes an opportunity.

Part of my problem with the movie is that Kuklinski isn’t all that interesting a person (at least how he was portrayed here, and I heard Shannon say he watched hours and hours of interview footage). An early date with his wife was intriguing. He showed that he’s not the most talkative and perhaps a bit shy, but has some wit about him. Yet we don’t see anything interesting with the two once they get married.

There’s a scene where Kuklinski visits his brother (Stephen Dorff) in jail that’s excellent, and sheds some light on their childhood. Perhaps I would’ve preferred a bit more of that back story. The lack of insight into such a monster could’ve been explored more.

The ‘70s settings were done well – the disco, the cars and clothes – and it had a grimy, gritty vibe about it that worked. Had there been a better script, Shannon would’ve been a shoe-in for another Oscar nomination.

At the screening I attended, the air conditioning wasn’t working (on the hottest day of the week). We were miserable, and a woman next to me kept turning her phone on. I looked at her every time, she looked back at me, and would shut it off. Each time she’d try to conceal it more in her purse, but you always notice that blue glare. I was tempted to go all Iceman on her, but she finally left before the film ended.

I recently read about National Review columnist Kevin Williamson being at a play and asking a woman to get off her phone. She told him to mind his own business, at which point he snatched her phone and threw it across the room. He got slapped, and security escorted him out. I wanted to mention and applaud Williamson in this review since he’s my new hero.

Now, when The Iceman cometh this weekend, should you go see it? Perhaps only if you love gangster flicks.

It gets 2 ½ stars out of 5.