You’re dressed quite formally for a forest stroll.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/17/2013
Director: Ariel Vromen
Cast: Michael Shannon, Wynona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, James Franco, Stephen Dorff, Robert Davi, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherrill
Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content.
Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes


I can be lots of fun.

True crime has always been big business in both cinema and literature. Regular, gentle people are fascinated by stories of heinous crimes and horrific criminals, usually spurred by morbid but earnest curiosity about the dark side of human nature. Richard Kuklinski, the titular character in The Iceman, was arrested in 1986 for committing countless grisly murders for hire and later gave a series of interviews which spawned a documentary and a biography that detailed his terrible crimes. He stated in the interviews that his motivation for discussing his offenses was to better understand himself, to understand why he was the way he was.

I saw the documentary (of the same name) years ago when it ran on HBO and Kuklinski’s chilling confessions stayed with me in all the time since. I was very much looking forward to seeing The Iceman in theaters and was anticipating a full-fledged horror movie. But it’s not a horror movie; it’s more a psychological thriller and therein lays its flaws.

There simply isn’t enough actual psychology or thrills at its core. The film jumps through time from the 1960s to the 1980s, giving us what are almost vignettes – a series of crime stories that are all fairly unrelated to each other. Kuklinski was a contract killer who worked for the mob and the mob is well enough represented in the form of Ray Liotta. These crime scenes, some of which are truly chilling, are intercut with scenes of Kuklinski’s family life, at home with his wife and daughters who only ever catch glimpses of the monster in their midst. There is no back story for Kuklinski, no reason is ever presented for why he was able to commit such awful crimes and then go home and dote on his little girls. There is no anticipation of what might be coming next; we all know he’s going to kill again and again. We learn a lot about the crimes, but not very much about the man who committed them. What you see is what you get, which is actually a whole lot of menace with nothing behind it.

The acting in the film is great: no one does menacing better than Michael Shannon these days (I so would not want to run into him in the dark) and he perfectly portrays a cold-blooded sociopath, dead eyed, unflinching and frighteningly detached from the atrocities he’s committing. Winona Ryder is his naive wife who senses that something must be fishy about their comfortable suburban life, but has no clue just how fishy things really are. The supporting cast includes several recognizable faces (was that Ross from Friends?!?), disguised in period appropriate moustaches and leisure suits, which help fill in this portrait of a killer. It’s disappointing that the actors are limited by the material they’re given.

I was hoping to see a straight up horror film about a mob hit man, but was content to see a psychological thriller. I walked out of The Iceman satisfied and I have no doubt that I will watch it again when it finally pops up in my Netflix queue. It was upon further reflection that I realized I had been shortchanged out of an intricate portrait of a monster and given an aimless film without enough life behind it instead. More disappointingly, the film does not expand upon any of the material already available about Richard Kuklinksi. If you’re looking for real horror, you’re better off viewing his interview tapes.

3 out of 5