As “The Godfather” taught us, family is everything, even if you are a cold-blooded killer. Such is the story of Richard Kuklinski, a real-life contract killer and family man played by Michael Shannon in “The Iceman.”
Based on “The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by crime writer Anthony Bruno the movie begins on Kuklinski’s first date with his wife to be Deborah (Winona Ryder). He’s quiet and reserved, but charming and she is won over by his charisma. They marry, have kids and lead a normal life. At least at home. Deborah had no idea her mild mannered husband was an expert assassin, who paid for the kid’s private school and her jewels by slicing throats, shooting and choking the enemies of his boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta).
Kuklinski was dubbed the Iceman for two reasons. When he was arrested police found a stash of bodies he had frozen to obscure time of death and because of his icy demeanor. It’s a role Shannon was born to play. From certain angles he looks like an everyman, the kind of guy who goes home at night to his wife and two kids. From other angles he’s menacing, the kind of guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
Shannon is cooler than Mr. Freeze as the title character in “The Iceman,” and he’s joined by Chris Evans in a career making performance as a ice cream truck driving killer, Liotta in mobster mode—between Shannon and Liotta it’s a showdown of the steely stares—the welcome return of Wynonna Ryder and David Schwimmer playing against type as a slimy mafia enforcer.
The performances are all top notch. Unfortunately the movie is content to skim the surface of the motivation for Kuklinski’s murderous rage. It’s suggested his father beat him and, like many serial killers, that he tortured small animals as a child, but the gab between family man and killer is wide and left mostly unexplored.
“The Iceman” is an average crime drama elevated by good acting, particularly Shannon’s chilling lead performance.
It’s easy to forget that has had an interesting career.
Nominated for two Oscars before her twenty-third birthday, she was an “it girl” with a collection of big hits under her belt like Heathers and Mermaids and a laundry list of A-list directors hankering to work with her. Her waifish good looks and habit of dating hot stars with names like Johnny and Matt made her a tabloid regular — but that was some time ago. Before Dec. 12, 2001, she seemed to be destined to become the next Julia or Meg, but career ambivalence — “For a long time I was almost ashamed of being an actress,” she says — and a run-in with the law slowed her momentum.
The fallout from her arrest and a four-year hiatus may have dimmed her star, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been doing interesting work, including a supporting role in the TIFF entry The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee. She’s not the box office draw she was, but that doesn’t bother the actress, who turns 38 next month.
“Pretty Woman turned (Julia Roberts) into an overnight celebrity rather than an actress,” Ryder said, “Now her whole career is about box-office. It’s not a burden I’d ever want to carry.”
That’s lucky for Ryder, because other than this year’s Star Trek, her movies haven’t ignited the box office — but there are some good rentals in her recent work.
In The Darwin Awards, she’s an insurance claims investigator scrutinizing the deaths of people who die while doing ridiculous things. The movie has been called a “celebration of eccentricity” — film critic speak for “quirky” — and contains witty dialogue and dark humour.
Death is the subject of another unjustly ignored Ryder film. In The Last Word, she falls for a man who makes a living writing suicide notes. This one plays like a rom-com Harold and Maude, and sits nicely alongside the noir comedy of her earlier films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.
The final entry in our Ryder triple bill is The Ten, a portmanteau comprised of stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Ryder plays a newlywed who finds sexual liberation with a ventriloquist dummy.
Choices like these guarantee she won’t have Meryl or Angelina looking over their shapely shoulders, but they are good movies and deserve to be seen.
“Focus should be on the art of film,” she says, “not on the business of film.”
In 1977 sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick wrote a nightmarish novel about drug-fueled paranoia, Big Brother style government surveillance and personal rights based on his own experiences as a drug addict. Prolific director Richard Linklater has taken pains with this material, turning the counter culture A Scanner Darkly into an intriguingly entertaining animated movie.
At the base of the story is a highly addictive drug called Substance D, so named for causing “dumbness, despair, desertion and death”. It appears that the government is weaning addicts off other drugs so they can then become hooked on the moneymaking Substance D, which the government controls the rights to. Caught in the web of the drug are the main characters, played by Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson.
The actors didn’t simply lend their voices to the film, as is the case with most traditional animation. In this case the entire movie was shot on video and then rotoscoped, a time-consuming process in which each live-action frame is painted by hand. The result is a lurid dreamscape that lends an appropriately surreal tone to the story. The look of the “scramble suit,” a psychedelic cloak that alters the wearer’s appearance, is nicely rendered by the rotoscope process.
On the downside the animation flattens some of the performances. Reeves and Winona Ryder seem to get lost under the layers of paint. Only Robert Downey Jr’s manic performance can really transcend the animation. His energy is based on something more than simply his years of real-life experience with drugs; it is a funny, sad and intelligent performance from one of the best actors working today.