We begin with David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter: “A densely plotted account of the life and crimes of Richard Kuklinski, who murdered more than 100 people before he was apprehended in 1986, The Iceman is a vivid evocation of a remorseless sociopath sustaining a double life as a contract killer and devoted family man. Gritty, gripping and unrelentingly intense, Ariel Vromen’s film boasts richly detailed character work from an ideal cast. But the driving force is Michael Shannon in the title role, showing yet again that he can explore the darkness within like few actors working today.”
“Dubbed ‘the Iceman’ for his practice of freezing his victims’ bodies so as to confuse the time of death, Kuklinski became an active associate of various East Coast crime families in the late 1950s,” explains Variety‘s Justin Chang. “Drawn from Anthony Bruno’s 1993 true-crime novel and a 1992 HBO documentary featuring interviews with Kuklinski behind bars (he died there in 2006), the loosely fictionalized script by Vromen and Morgan Land spans roughly two decades, dramatizing not only his grisly day-to-day activities but their gradual toll on his family, an effect comparable to that of slow-drip poison…. The unexpected pleasure of The Iceman is the stealth excellence of its ensemble, studded with tasty turns from actors cast against type and rendered almost unrecognizable by heavy shades, handlebar mustaches, longish hair and other ’60s and ’70s accoutrements.”
“Actors love to play against type,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss, “and among the amusements of The Iceman is the spectacle of Friends schlub [David] Schwimmer as a dopey mobster and Captain America [Chris] Evans as the cyanide-wielding Freezy. Other actors happily exploit the types they’ve been playing their whole careers: Liotta the shifty Mafioso, and Robert Davi as a wise old consiglieri who blithely advises Kuklinski that ‘Life is random.’… Shannon, of course, is the story here. Indie films’ favorite neurotic in Revolutionary Road and Take Shelter, he rarely raises his voice here. Doesn’t need to; if looks could kill, everyone in the movie would be dead. Everyone watching, too.”
“Kuklinski emerges as a compulsive murderer who has found a way to get paid for his compulsion,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “He never develops or grows all that more interesting as the years go by. Basically he’s a nasty piece of work—and watchable and well-crafted though this film is, you have to wonder if Vromen’s next one is going to be about the lavatorial needs of bears or the religious convictions of the pope.”
The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “Individual scenes are often filled with memorable details—in a car chase, enormous station wagons bob around on their suspension, like boats being buffeted in each other’s wake—but others clunk around like bottles in a car boot. Flashbacks to Kuklinski’s abusive upbringing are as unsubtle as the film’s doomy electronic soundtrack, and a scene in which he reminisces about his depraved childhood with his incarcerated brother is a dud.”
Winona Ryder, who plays Kuklinski’s wife Deborah is “in impressive form,” finds Screen‘s Mark Adams. “Real kudos should go to cinematographer Bobby Bukowski for his powerful work, working wonderfully in tandem with production designer Nathan Amondson and costumer Donna Zakowska, who between them do a fantastic job in charting a dark journey (there is never really any sunshine here) through New York from the 1960s to the mid ’80s.”
All in all, The Iceman is “never a painful watch, more of a faintly dull, seen-it-all-before one,” finds the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton. “Fans of Shannon might get a kick out of seeing him front-and-center in a film like this, but for everyone else, it’s likely a rental at best.”
Updates, 9/3: “There is more than a touch of Goodfellas about it,” notes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. “Like Martin Scorsese’s film, it offers a deglamorized and very detailed picture of mobster life. The presence of Ray Liotta as the utterly ruthless crime boss Roy DeMeo, who takes Kuklinski under his wing, reinforces the sense that we are back in Scorsese’s world.”
At Little White Lies, Adam Woodward agrees: “Both are based on true events, both follow an episodic cautionary-tale narrative that upholds the age-old truism that crime doesn’t pay, and both are exceptionally violent, masculine films.”
Updates, 9/15: “Making a compelling movie out of [Kuklinski’s] life ought to be reasonably easy,” writes the AV Club‘s Scott Tobias. “To quote William Hurt in A History Of Violence, ‘How do you fuck that up?!’ And yet director Ariel Vromen fucks it up plenty, making a boilerplate gangster drama that’s smothered in a tone of high seriousness.”
“Violent, yes. Gripping, no.” Eric D. Snider at Movies.com: “Richie, despite being the film’s main character, never seems like a character at all. His crimes, while loathsome, aren’t portrayed with enough malicious flair to make the film work as a sick killfest—Vromen is too serious-minded for that—but it’s not rich enough to work as a biography either. It’s an exploitation film trapped in the stifling body of a respectable crime drama.”
“Winona Ryder’s bland turn as the killer’s wife epitomizes the lifeless trajectory of this cold portrait,” adds indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn.
Venice and Toronto 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.